Removing the stigma around mental health requires a balance of awareness and solutions
Anxiety is common, especially among younger generations.
On a daily basis, 49 percent of millennials and 55 percent of Gen Z experience anxiety. These alarmingly high numbers have driven a noticeable push in recent years — online, in the media, and in entertainment — to remove the stigma around mental health and to encourage people to speak up and seek the help that they need. This seems like a positive trend, but when something becomes the focus of pop culture, it runs the risk of surpassing normal and becoming sensational, a development that can backfire and ultimately defeat the original purpose.
The act of discussing mental health is a delicate task; the spectrum of what is acceptable and what is offensive is vast and subjective.
Removing the stigma around mental health should mean making it normal, commonplace – something you could discuss over lunch in a calm, even tone. Catapulting the conversation into something alarming and controversial is almost as harmful as leaving the subject taboo. Instead, we need to talk about mental health the way we would the common cold — we’ve all had it, to varying degrees.
We can never fully understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s head, so we cannot be sure of what will or might trigger symptoms. It can happen on any scale to anyone, whether it’s a teacher bringing up a topic at school, a news anchor mentioning something on the news, a friend opening-up, or a celebrity campaigning for change. Mental health issues need to be introduced into daily conversation in a way that makes us understand that it is normal and okay to feel that way. That’s not to say we should underwrite how severe feelings of anxiety and depression can be, but rather we should feel comfortable plainly stating our experience the way we would with a bad flu. It doesn’t make for compelling TV, but that’s the point — it’s not supposed to.
One positive aspect of putting mental health at the forefront of our media intake is that it quickly becomes a huge part of our lives and makes those who are experiencing similar things feel included and represented. People need to feel supported by a community. This is particularly crucial when battling a stigmatized issue. We need to have that daily assurance that there is someone out there that will listen and will understand. The more we bring this conversation to the center of our focus, the more emboldened people undergoing the same thoughts and feelings will be to band together.
We need to take an active role in our own lives and the lives of those around us to ensure we are providing the support we all need.
Starting a conversation around mental health is the first part of the process, but to accomplish progress requires a next step: We need to encourage people to seek help. We need to provide them with the resources to do so and the continued support along the way. There are countless support groups, forums, counselors, apps and activities to keep people engaged and connected to bridge the gap between talking about mental health and taking action.
It is important to understand that everyone is different and each case is unique, so a blanket statement of understanding and general tool will not be truly effective. Mental health is a topic that affects our entire society and while the first step in someone’s personal journey comes from within, the path starts with all of us.
You may also enjoy reading My Return to Medication for Depression and Anxiety Disorder by Indira Abby Heijnen