10 Jan It’s Time to Change the Conversation About Mental Health
At the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards, the rapper Logic performed a new song. The song, 1-800-273-8255, is the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. According to the director of the organization, in the three weeks following the release of the song, call volume increased by more than one-quarter and website traffic also rose significantly.
Celebrities like actors Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone, author John Green, New York Giants football player Brandon Marshall, singers Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato and Zayn Malik, and many, many others are outspoken about their struggles with mental health issues. Yet, despite the increasing openness of so many and the clear need for transparent discussion, the stigma surrounding mental health persists. It’s time to change the conversation.
Mental health disorders are common among children and adolescents: 1 in 5 will be diagnosed with a disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health reports that the most common mental health disorders young people face are anxiety disorders, affecting about 25 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds, and mood disorders like depression, occurring in 14 percent of kids in this same age group. Very often, these can be debilitating, impacting a young person’s ability to thrive at school, with friends and in their life in general.
The numbers are alarming and seemingly only getting worse. With the prevalence of smartphones, research is finding that anxiety and depression are increasing. The more connected young people are online, the more disconnected they’re actually feeling, the more judgemental they are about themselves, and the more challenging it is for them to feel confident in the world.
Although there’s ample evidence that talking about mental health-related issues increases the likelihood for improvement and that being open about one’s struggles can help create change, we continue to treat it like it’s a problem. We don’t blame someone for having diabetes, yet we often tell people with depression to just “snap out of it.” As a society, it’s time to change the way we talk about and portray mental health.
Here’s how parents can be part of the solution:
Create a dialogue. Talk openly about mental health with your children. Don’t be afraid to be honest and open about your struggles or in asking others about theirs. The more we can talk easily about these issues, the more normalized they become.
Get educated. Learn about the different mental health disorders and who they impact. Some demographics are more likely to struggle with mental health issues than others. Websites like MentalHealth.gov and nami.org provide great resources to get you started.
Watch your words. Pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Often people use mental health terms in disparaging ways or in a manner that doesn’t acknowledge their significance, such as saying, “He was totally psychotic,” when someone is acting out of character, or “I could just kill myself,” in response to making a minor mistake. These kinds of phrases trivialize the mental health struggles many people do face. Rather than use mental health symptoms and issues as adjectives, find another way to describe how you’re feeling or others’ behaviors.
Seek support. You aren’t alone, even if it often feels like you are. Based on the stigma that exists, it’s easy to feel shame if you’re struggling. Shame can push you to avoid talking about your feelings and connecting with others. Seek support from others, like your doctor, a trusted friend or a religious leader, and get help from a mental professional if needed.
Support mental health organizations. There are many organizations working to remove the stigma associated with mental health. The more you support them, the more likely we will be to create meaningful change. Organizations like Active Minds, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and The Trevor Project provide important resources and information to those who need it.
Young people appear to be looking for help in managing their mental health issues more effectively. It seems, though, that often they get shutdown or turned off to the idea because of the lack of support from society in general. Mental health issues are frequently perceived as weakness, when in reality owning them and treating them shows great strength. It’s time to change the conversation. Let’s end the stigma.
Authored by: Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD