According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), nearly ¼ of adults in the United States are affected by mental health, whether it be anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among others (2017). This means that over 44 million people in the US suffer from a mental health issue (Mental Health America, n.d.).
There are social stigmas surrounding mental health, including the misunderstanding that people who suffer from mental health issues are more likely to be violent or institutionalized.
The truth is mental health issues affect people of all ages and are no different than any other issues that we face. In fact, we all suffer from some form of mental health issue at some point in our life. Having discussions and open communication about mental health can provide people with proper support.
Ashely Santangelo (2018) discusses her experience with mental health issues, diagnoses, and eventual support. I was inspired by her story, and it motivated me to write this article. The holiday season can be a particular trigger for those suffering from mental health issues, which made me feel this is an appropriate time to write about this.
Teenagers Are at a Higher Risk
Teenagers are particularly susceptible to mental health issues. Jean Twenge, a psychologist who has spent 25 years researching generational differences, commented that this generation of teenagers is the first to have spent their entire lives with access to technology and digital media (Nir And Far Blog, 2018).
Twenge explains that this generation is the safest, yet the most mentally vulnerable. Nir Eyal, who has studied the psychological code on which technology and apps are built to engage users, noted that teen crime, drug use, alcohol use, and pregnancy rates are in decline, as they are spending less time on the streets. Instead, it seems, they spend more time on cell phones and tablets (Nir And Far Blog, 2018).
Since the advent of smart phones and smart gadgets, and an increased time spent online, there are also more teenagers suffering from depression, engaging in self-harming behaviors, or committing suicide. Twenge and Eyal explain that as teenagers spend more time with technology, they spend less time interacting face to face with others and less time outdoors. This, coupled with a lack of mental support, mental health services, and lack of coping skills, has made this generation of teenagers more susceptible to mental health issues. It is important to not that the mere use of technology is not the issue, but rather the over-use of technology. They indicated that teens who spend over three hours a day on technology are at a higher risk for developing mental health issues (Nir and Far Blog, 2018).
Technology is not the only part of the problem, but there are added elements that have contributed to an increase of mental health issues among teenagers, including an over-emphasis on standardized testing, over-restrictive environments, over-scheduling kids, using technology devices to “nanny,” and the decline of community activities such as religious and civic groups (Nir And Far Blog, 2018).
Adult Life Stages & Associates Changes
Young adults, aged from 19 to 40 years, have graduated high school and are in college, graduate school, and in the first years of their professional lives. They develop their sense of intimacy and explore relationships outside of home. They start their professional careers and create meaningful relationships with friends, classmates, and colleagues. In positive situations, they develop strong personal relationships and feel self-fulfilled. However, because young adults are exploring life on their own, they engage in riskier behavior, such as smoking and heavy drinking. Often, facing life on their can be daunting, and this can cause depression and sadness.
Middle adults, aged from 40 to 65 years, are more established in their sense of self, and focus on the people that are important in their lives, including their children, grandchildren, other families, and surrounding communities. As they age, their children leave home, and that can lead to the feeling of an “empty nest” as their houses are more solitary. They may become caregivers to their own parents or family members who are in the older adult stage. It is common to see jobs shifting and even the pursuit of new careers. Because their home lives are more stable, they are able to pursue their creativity, which may influence or contribute to changing careers. All of these changes can lead to increased stress and anxiety.
Older adults, aged 65 to 85 years, are facing retirement and seeking fulfillment and a renewed sense of purpose. They see changes as their strength, vigor, and work capacity decreases, and as they leave the workforce. Emotional support systems may be lost, as friends, family, and close relationships fade or change. If they had a successful life, they may feel a sense of wholeness, wisdom, and seek rewarding relationships. But if they have not, they may feel despair, loneliness, and isolation. Many can feel depressed, and deteriorate cognitively and physically, as they feel burdened with increase in health problems and possible financial insecurity.
Support for Mental Health
Each stage of life has a unique set of characteristics, but it is important to note that they are all related and what happens in one stage, often influences the others. Getting care and support through all our life stages is important to encourage positive emotions and mental health.
Santangelo (2018) shares different options to treat mental health, including therapy, medications prescribed from diagnosis and treatment, support groups, as well as other supportive behaviors. She shares the importance of patience and persistence, as well as the importance of empowerment, which means taking part of the healing process into our own hands. She explains that having a diagnosis gave her the starting point from which to explore the type of behaviors that would be supportive to her. For instance, she engaged in activities that she found gratifying, such as cleaning or doing something creative, and activities that helped her manage stress, such as meditation and exercise.
Santangelo discovered supportive activities through trial and error and recognized that the two factors that were most important were to be personally motivated to improve mental health and having supportive relationships through friends, family, colleagues, and support groups.
When dealing with technology, some recommendations for teenagers and adults, include using technology for no more than 2 hours per day, not keeping a phone in the bedroom, not using a gadget right before going to sleep, and instead, connecting more often face-to-face with others, reading, and going outdoors (NCCIH, 2018; Nir And Far Blog, 2018).
Mental health affects all of us at some point in our lives. Seeking treatment, support, and practices that foment a positive outlook can make all the difference. Consider exploring different forms of meditation, body treatments such as massage and acupuncture, traveling, spending time in nature, spending time with loved ones, or engaging in creative activities.
Mental Health America (n.d.) The state of mental health in America. Mental Health America. Retrieved on November 26, 2018 from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state-mental-health-america
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). (2017). Mental Health. NIH, Health. Retrieved on November 26, 2018 from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/mental?nav=govd
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). (2018). Nature Contact and Human Health: A Multi-method approach. NIH, Health. Retrieved on November 26, 2018 from https://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=28440&bhcp=1
Nir And Far Blog. (2018, November 6). The Truth about Kids and Tech: Jean Twenge (iGen) and Nir Eyal (Hooked) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6IBlFELDxc&t=345s
Santangelo, A. (2018). A blueprint when feeling blue: How a mental health diagnosis can be empowering. Jen Reviews. Retrieved on November 26, 2018 from https://www.jenreviews.com/mental-health-diagnosis/