Please Watch the video below before you continue reading. It relates to what I write about.
Today is many things. Wednesday. Hump Day. October 10th. The 283rd day of the year. More important than all of these things, however, today is World Mental Health Day. World Mental Health Day was started by the World Health Organization in 1996 with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. In our society it is becoming increasingly clear that part of the reason we so desperately need a World Mental Health Day is as a result of the shame and stigma we attach to the mental health discussion. Attaching the shame and stigma is wrong, dangerous, and doing a disservice to millions of people everywhere.
Each year WMHD has a theme and this year’s theme is one of the most important they have ever had. This year’s theme is “Young People, Mental Health, and a Changing World.” As someone who works with adolescents on a daily basis, I can tell you this could be the theme for the next ten years and we still would not have addressed the needs of our adolescent’s mental health. In a world where teenagers are constantly bombarded with social media, cyber bullying, and marketing campaigns designed around their actual fear, it is a wonder that any of our middle and high school students can function at all.
Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and that number is growing rapidly. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviors such as unsafe sex or dangerous driving. Eating disorders are also of concern. All of these numbers double or triple among the most vulnerable youth (LGBTQ+ youth, other minority groups, etc). And most heartbreakingly, 80% of all youth who identify as homeless or transient are currently battling mental illness.
I teach ninth graders (for those not in America that is usually around 14 or 15 years old. I have had students deal with situations that would leave me in the fetal position on the floor. Pregnancies, abusive relationships, sexual identity struggles, divorces, breakups, and gossip stories have all had students in my room at one point or another trying to figure out how to get through. Like 95% of the rest of the teachers in America, I have no training on how to help students through these issues. We do the best we can while simultaneously walking the tightrope that comes with being a legally mandated reporter, trying to follow district guidelines, and trying to keep the trust with the student. Sometimes I have helped the student. Sometimes I have not. But the process as a whole does not help our students. There is only one thing that will help our young people.
We must start talking about mental health.
We must start allowing people with mental health illnesses to talk about their struggles without looking at them with shame, pity, or sorrow.
We must stop telling people that if you can’t handle something on your own you are weak.
We must praise the people who are struggling with mental health who come forward and ask for help – because it is one of the strongest things you can do.
We must hug the people in our friend groups and families who come forward and say I am not ok. We must tell them that it is ok to feel not ok.
We MUST tell people they are not alone.
Coming from a personal place, I know all of the above are a must because I have found them out to be true on a personal level. Not too long ago, I was not in the best “place” when it comes to my own mental health. I was not where I wanted to be or thought I should be in life. I felt like nothing was going my way and that I had no one to talk to about it. I was embarrassed and ashamed and felt like people would think less of me if I talked about it. So I did what most people who don’t seek treatment or diagnosis do in that situation. I addressed the problem myself. This led me to only get worse by putting myself, my body, and my mental health at even more risk. When I finally admitted to myself this was not working, I asked for help.
I found someone to talk to. It helped. It taught me other ways of coping with my anxiety, my feelings of depression, and my own mindfulness. It gave me permission to not feel okay – and at the end of the day, that was all I wanted and needed. So before I close out this blog post, I want to directly address the people reading this who might have felt the same way I did. Maybe you still feel that way. If you do, please keep reading.
First, please know that you are LOVED, you are VALUED, and you are SPECIAL.
Please know there is NOTHING wrong with you. and that you are NOT alone.
Please know that you matter and that this world is better with you in it.
Please know that if you are thinking of ending your life, that is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Please know that if you need to reach out to someone that I will listen to you (firstname.lastname@example.org) and there are other people out there who will listen to you or help you (see below).
And lastly, please know that if you are feeling not ok, that is perfectly ok. Because the rest of us are here to help.
If you are feeling like you need some help with your mental health, please reach out to any of the organizations below. If you are scared, reach out to anyone you trust.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: This toll free number is 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You will be connected to your local crisis center and get immediate help. The whole reason Logic wrote the song was because he knew people who personally benefitted from calling this line.
Childhelp: This hotline is a resource specifically for child and adult survivors of abuse. Callers are connected to a mental health professional and even provided treatment referrals.
The Trevor Project: This organization is geared toward LGBTQ individuals, specifically young people. You can call, web chat or text to get some mental health help.
Mental Health America: From depression to eating disorders, this website offers a lot of screenings for users to choose from.