Teenagers and Mental Health

There are pros and cons to only writing about your own experience with mental health. On one hand, you can write more in-depth about the day-to-day of living with mental illness because well, you’re living it. On the other hand, I still have a limited worldview (given my age, gender, race, etc.) that isn’t as helpful to people different than me. I’m going to try to post more from a mental health advocacy perspective, and I’m very interested in hearing from you about what I should cover. Let me know in the comments or send me an email at mybrainsnotbroken@gmail.com!

I am not a Gen Z’er. For one thing, I don’t think anyone actually uses that term, and for another thing, I am not a teenager. Though I’m only in my 20s, I am practically ancient when it comes to the digital upbringing of people even 5-10 years younger than me. So there’s a lot I don’t understand about the generation below me, and a lot I won’t even try to understand. But one thing I will say is that the conversation surrounding mental health by teenagers today is far, far ahead of the conversation that was being had when I was a teenager.

In a recent Pew Research Poll, 70 percent of teens saw mental health as a ‘struggle for their peers.’ Is this concerning? Definitely. But that also means that mental health is part of a conversation for teens that didn’t exist a generation ago.

“It’s both worrying and positive at the same time,” says Claire Henderson, a clinical senior lecturer at the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience. “In terms of more people saying they know someone [with mental illness], it may be because the rates are going up, but it may also be because of a greater level of awareness.” (from the Atlantic)

And call me glass half-full, but I think that there’s a greater level of awareness surrounding mental health today than in past decades, which contributes directly to that ‘growing’ number.

One of the biggest differences is the Internet. While there are clearly issues when it comes to teenagers and the Internet/social media, there is also an upside. It gives teens an opportunity to not only share their own experiences but see that they aren’t alone in those experiences. Considering a significant symptom of depression is a feeling of isolation, knowing you’re not alone can go a long way toward dealing with your issues.

Though it’s only been a few years since I was a teen, my upbringing was significantly different than theirs. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 16, and I didn’t download Instagram until I was 21. There’s a big difference between the pressures I was feeling being 16 years old in 2010 and how a 16-year-old feels in 2019. But the good news is, it seems as though the conversation is easier to have. And that is a massive step in improving the mental health conversation in today’s America – a goal people of every age should aspire to.

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Holding on to Hope

I know, I know, I didn’t write a post last week. I was out of town at a time when I usually write these posts so I decided to take a week of from the blog and get back to it this week. But wouldn’t you know it, there was more than one thing that happened this past week and a half that I need to share with you, even though that wasn’t my intent – funny how that works, eh?

Two weeks ago, I went on an Out of the Darkness Community Walk, put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It was an incredible experience and meant a lot that I was able to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention, a topic I am very passionate about. Before the walk, some words were shared by the people hosting the event and people who had lost others to suicide, and someone said one thing in particular that stuck with me. Two words. Hold on. I’ve heard those words many times before, but this time they hit me harder than ever before. Hold on, she said, for the future. For the life you’re going to live, the relationships you’ll make and the person you’ll become. I’ve always been told to hold on, but I’ve never been told why.

Then I attended a wedding last weekend. It was a wedding between two friends that are near and dear to my heart, and I was fortunate enough to be a member of the bridal party as a groomsmen. I won’t go on and on about how amazing the weekend was (even though it was!), but instead I’ll tell you what happened because of it. It gave me hope. Hope about what? A lot of things. But it wasn’t important what those things were as much as it was that hope existed in the first place. Because I lose hope fairly frequently. Hope that I’ll ever lead a normal life. Hope that mental illness will not define me. Hope that I can be happy with the life I lead.

But this wedding, it gave me hope – in so many ways more than the obvious. And it gave me an answer to the question, why? Why hold on? Hope. Hold on for all that I hope for. I want to hold on to the hope that my health, and consequently my life, will get better. I want to hold on to the hope that my life won’t always be this way, both in and outside of my head. There’s so much hope I want to hold on to that I don’t know what to do with all of it.

So I’ll hold onto some hope for you, too. Whatever it’s for, whoever it’s for, I’ll hold onto it. Because people have been holding onto hope for me my entire life, and it’s time I return the favor.E.B. White

#4Mind4Body: Mental Health Awareness Month

As it has been since 1949, May is Mental Health Awareness Month throughout the United States. Founded by Mental Health America, each year has a different theme that focuses on certain aspects of mental health (e.g. in 2017, the theme was Risky Business). This year the theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body, and it’s centered about making sure that you’re taking care of your entire body when it comes to your health. This means physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually…the list goes on. They also emphasize ‘making use of the tools and resources that benefit bodies and minds together’ – of which there are plenty. It’s no secret that physical actions can significantly affect our mental health. Whether it’s exercising, spending quality time with people or earnestly seeking out activities that you love to do, the things we do every day go a long way in impacting our mental health.

We make choices all the time. What to eat, what to wear, who to spend time with. Should we work out today? Should we meet up with friends for happy hour? All these things affect us in the long run. Whether we admit it or not, the physical things we do day in and day out affect our mental health – which is why we should pay attention to them.

I really like this year’s theme because I think that taking care of my body has a positive impact on my mental health. Maybe it doesn’t always keep the depression away, but it rarely makes my symptoms worse. Whether it’s eating right, exercising, or spending time with quality people, I’ve known for a long time that the choices I make – or don’t make – will impact whether or not my depression and anxiety will get the best of me that day, or that week. It might not always be the main factor, but it definitely has a role to play in the grand scheme of things.

And this might be my favorite part of this year’s theme; ANYONE can participate! Being mentally healthy should be at the top of everyone’s list – you don’t need have a mental illness to get to work on your mental health (though I won’t lie, it helps a little).

Mental Health America has a ton of awesome resources to go along with a toolkit that is made specially for Mental Health Month. They also have interesting challenges every day of the month to help you reach your goals. This might seem like a lot of information, and that this all requires a crazy amount of effort, but remember – any attempt to improve yourself is a monumental step in the right direction.