Speaking with a child recently, she spoke to me of the very real pain she felt from her depression and anxiety. She shared that one of her parents was embarrassed by her need for medication and therapy. My heart broke for her, and I wished I could make her pain go away. However, it is not that simple, and all I could do at the time was listen, so she felt heard.
The pain of depression, combined with the constant worry of anxiety is very real. In fact, most of us have felt depressed at some point to a lesser or greater degree, depending upon circumstances. In fact, my own experiences have been fairly short-lived, no more than 1-2 years, and I was able to continue on with work/life/education, albeit with great difficulty. For some, it is a challenging seasonal event, tied to the anniversary of an event, holiday, or winter months. However, for many, depression, and its side-kick anxiety, is pervasive, lasting two or more years.
According to a March 2022 World Health Organization report, since the pandemic, there has been a 25% increase in the prevalence of depression and anxiety world wide, with young people and women having been most affected. In addition, the National Institute of Mental Health adds that young people, aged 18-25, currently have the highest prevalence of mental illness, a whopping 30.6%. Furthermore, in another WHO report, globally speaking, one in seven adolescents, aged 10-19, are currently experiencing some form of mental illness. Specifically, in the US, the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists reports that one in five youth, aged 9-17 years, are experiencing a diagnosable mental illness. More sobering, acccording to the same report, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-24 years old.
As an educator, parent, and most of all, as a fellow human being, my heart breaks reading these statistics. It only confirms what I am witnessing and encountering on a daily basis. More teens and young adults with whom I come into contact on a regular basis are in real pain–whether I am aware of their mental anguish or not. The most common mental illness among teens and young adults according to several health organizations include generalized anxiety, phobias, and depression.
However, it is not all grim. Mental illness, especially among teens and young adults, is very treatable and manageable. There are a wide-array of techniques and support systems designed to address the unique needs of each individual case, no matter the age.
Treatment often starts with some form of psychotherapy, also known as counseling or therapy. Therapy may last for only a short period, or over several years, depending upon the person. It may focus on thoughts and feelings regarding current life, issues in the past, as well as concerns about the future. Through therapy, the person not only feels supported and less isolated, but typically develops strategies and coping skills designed to address current mental health issues. Additionally, therapy may also include ways to develop/strengthen specific relationships, overcome fears/insecurities, address past traumas, increase self-compassion and understanding, as well as create a plan for moving forward.
Medication is often another form of treatment used in tandem with therapy, but it does require monitoring of a psychiatrist or other trained medical doctor. The most commonly used medications prescribed for depression and anxiety are safe and effective ways to treat mental illness. Unfortunately, the wait times for such professionals, especially in recent times, can be months long.
As a result, many school counselors, universities, family doctors, and churches/civic/community centers are stepping up their support for those in need of mental health support. Many universities offer access to free, or nearly, services via in-person, videolink, or phone. Some church, civic, and community leaders are pooling services to likewise offer hotlines, group therapies, or other activities designed to promote and support mental health.
Even once a person is diagnosed and in-treatment, progress takes time, and there can set-backs, as well as ups and downs, in the process; however, certain factors do help facilitate treatment/recovery. These include:
- Positive support from friends and family
- Self-direction in determining own direction and goals for recovery
- Positive environment living/working/educational setting
- Financial stability
- Self-responsibility to administer self care needs
It is worth remembering that the therapy process is unique to each individual. Those in therapy may not return to where they were before the illness. Rather, the typical goal of therapy/medication is to increase a person’s ability to manage their own mental health using positive methods/coping strategies while still engaging with life.
In the meantime, what can mere mortals do to foster and improve our own mental health? Ireland’s Public Health Agency offers five simple ways worth considering in order to maintain and improve our mental well being. These include:
- Connect-invest time in building relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and/or neighbors.
- Be active– this doesn’t necessarily mean joining a gym, although it could, rather the focus is to move more, especially throughout your day, including walking
- Keep learning-this boosts self-esteem and self-confidence as well as keeps the mind actively engaged
- Take notice-increase awareness of the present moment; observe–without judgment–how thoughts and feelings fluctuate throughout the day, and how they may, or may not, affect the physical body
- Give to others-acts of kindness, no matter how big or small, go a long way in helping others and positively impact personal mental well-being.
Mental illness is a very real thing, affecting nearly 50 million people in the United States, but there is hope. If you are experiencing mental health issues, do not be afraid to seek or ask for help. And, please know that you are NOT alone.
Furthermore, if you know someone who is suffering from a mental health issue, support them, offer forms of encouragement, and above all, let them know you care. With so many silent sufferers in the world, it is more important than ever for us to be the light for one another.