In the last few years, there has been a rise in mental health awareness nationwide. It seems that people are more open to talking about and sharing their experiences with mental health to fight the stigma against it. In the past, there was always a stigma around the idea of mental health. People would call it a “cry for attention,” or think that people had “something wrong with them” if they were suffering. Well, it wasn’t that people had something wrong with themselves, but rather it was that there was something wrong with the whole notion of mental health. Society had false perceptions about what mental health was, the factors that caused it, and what it felt like to truly suffer. However, we have come a long way, and mental health awareness has made significant progress, but there is still room for improvement.
To help understand the importance of mental health, I reached out to a professional counselor and asked him a few questions. This counselor has worked for 31 years, and he was extremely excited to share his knowledge with me. Alas, I will share the questions I asked and his wise words with you.
Roughly, how many people do you see in a workday?
It depends on how long I work, but a range of probably no less than six and no more than twelve. If I am working a twelve hour day, it is usually ten to twelve.
Have you noticed an increase in mental health issues from when you started out until now?
What mental health issue do you see most often with your work?
Why do you think that is?
I think that there is more anxiety because there are more pressures on people because of the way we live. We are a lot more distressed, a lot more strung out, and trying to do more all the time. I also think that because the quality of relationships (family relationships and extended family relationships) people are less supported. There is not as much of a sense of community. People used to go to church and be together, but now people are more isolated and I think that isolation contributes to an increase in the level of anxiety. I think that with young people there is a lot more focus on “what am I going to do, what am I going to do?” and a standard level to which they have to work, and I think that contributes to more anxiety. So, I think there is a variety of types of anxiety, but from my perspective, all of them have increased. Now, I don’t want to leave depression out of the mix because I think that if you have issues with anxiety then you probably have issues with depression, but I haven’t seen the same increase in the level of depression as I have with anxiety. I think that learning how to manage anxiety is a key piece. I would like to see it taught before there is a problem such as coping skills, standard exercises like deep breathing, progressive relaxation, meditation; these are things that we could be doing in elementary schools to teach students and teachers.
What age group do you think is most prone to mental health issues, or is there an age group?
My inclination, just in my experience, is to say fifteen to twenty-five-year-olds. Older than twenty-five, I think there is a maturation process because those people are heading into the next level of adult life, but before fifteen you don’t know what to call it. You might have something going on, but it might not be there enough to really see it and understand it. So I think fifteen to twenty-five-year-olds is the age group I see most in my practice. This is a good thing because I want more people to get help while they are still young, I want the stigma to go down, but I think there is also a changing world out there full of global issues that contribute to anxiety. Now, people have more access to information about what is happening in the world, so if you listen to ten newscasts, eight out of the ten will tell you information about how many people were killed in this incident or another. The incident could have happened very far away, but because of how easy it is to access this information, the issue has now entered my world. Certain information that is spread across the globe becomes questioned by many because why do they need to hear that? Of course, they feel sorry for the people and families involved, but there is nothing they can do so why does this negative information need to enter their world. This is a huge contributor to anxiety. News information that penetrates our world leaves us anxious because we wonder what we can do about it.
And the fifteen to twenty-five-year-olds have access to this information more with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.
Absolutely. And let’s not forget eighty-inch screens in your living room with surround sounds where you can listen and watch your news. It is a little bit overwhelming, and we have not been teaching our young people well enough how to edit this information they watch. Young people have been exposed to screens too often, too young. The recent research by pediatricians says there should be no screens before the age of two because it affects brain development. We are talking about anxiety, but if I am twenty-five and I have had the capacity to look at screens for that long, it is quite possible that I have been affected already. We are just learning how to catch up with the technology and I do think it contributes and produces information that some people do not know how to regulate and the product of that is the human being is naturally going to want to respond so they anticipate and develop anxiety.
Can you offer any advice for those struggling with mental health?
Yes. All kinds of advice! Would you like it in alphabetical order? We are using a bit of humor obviously. It sounds simple enough, but I want to quote Winston Churchill here when he said: “keep calm and carry on.” This has become a buzz phrase, but keeping calm is a conscious, deliberate process that involves being mindful of my level of arousal and what I can do about it. So getting calm, keeping calm, and the part about carrying on is to not let anxiety prevent you from doing something. Don’t let your fear or worry cause you to miss out on a social event. If you are feeling anxious about it, you should go. Don’t stay home. Carry on. If you are anxious about a test, don’t stop studying. Don’t let the anxiety overwhelm you. So I like that notion of keep calm and carry on. It is very simple, but there is a lot packed into it. Other aspects of advice is don’t let any kind of your experience with the stigma prevent you from getting help. It is very important. If you are drowning and somebody throws you a life ring, you aren’t going to about whether or not it is “cool” to catch it, you will catch it to save your life. There is a time to ask for help and a time to reach out. Don’t be held hostage by the stigma and become isolated because it doesn’t help.
Although society has come a long way, the stigma against mental health is still evident among certain people. In my opinion, the first step to overcoming an issue is to push past what the stigma against mental health says about who are you as a person. People have to understand that it is not a cry for attention, and it is not a made-up story that people use to get away with doing things. Mental health is a serious health issue that has killed many just like any other sickness has, but by working together and raising awareness, then perhaps there will come a time where asking for a day off because of health issues goes beyond the typical cold.
Originally published by The Regis Magazine.
Featured image via Pexels.