According to the WHO, “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide”
Ever wondered why there is such an evident increase in mental health disorders in the recent years? I’m sure if you’re coming from the Gen X and above you would be pondering over the rising numbers of various mental health disorders, especially the ones associated with the post-millennial generation. Before we get into that, let’s address the white elephant first.
Mental health in essence is defined as our emotional, psychological and social well-being. Our overall mental health consists of factors in changes in behavior, how we handle stress and decision making too. Your mental health can be impacted by both biology and your life experiences. So it would make sense to say that your mental health is as important as your physical health? But the question is, do we give it that importance? And what do we really construe of mental health illnesses?
The Post-Millennial Apocalypse
The post-millennial generation is privileged and often over-stimulated with information/resources with presumptuous solutions to their problems through the power of Google and smartphones. It’s not that mental health issues have increased, it’s just that we have the power to talk about them, express them and in many cases, the social and structural infrastructure to cater and manage them. Just like how homosexuality was considered a mental illness in the 60’s and since then the world has really come a long way in changing that prerogative, the post-millennial generation has been able to create a harmonious virtual environment where expression is fluid and open, as they attempt to eradicate the stigma that still exists through various digital outlets, one of the most popular being TikTok.
According to Philadelphia therapist Janay Johnson, “TikTok is a way for teens to begin coping with mental-health issues when they might feel uncertain or uncomfortable about where to start.” She reiterates that “Not everyone is ready to outwardly speak about what they’re going through, for teens to be able to log onto TikTok and see other people who are going through things affirms their existence and what they’re going through."
On the contrary, according to a study conducted by Amity University, the data concluded that in comparison to the positive impacts of this application, TikTok had a much higher number of negative impacts due to cyber bullying and also social learning which lead to detrimental consequences such as self-harm and suicide. Just like any digital innovation, it has its advantages and disadvantages however when it comes to the matter of mental health and the post-millennial generation we need to be able to understand what behaviors platforms like TikTok are able to internalize subconsciously, which could possibly result in increased sensitivity or de-sensitization of emotions.
The important thing to know is that these platforms are not solutions to our problems or the inability to accept the present reality. Hours of entertainment and freedom to artistically express in front of an invisible audience is not going to subdue the pain that our heart withstands and only we can feel.
Mental Health Snapshot:
Let’s talk numbers to explore the gravity of the situation: According to the WHO study in 2004:
· “Approximately 450 million people suffer from a mental or behavioral disorder”
· “Nearly 1 million people commit suicide every year”
· “In addition to health and social costs, those who suffer from mental illnesses are also victim to human rights violations, stigma and discrimination”
And let’s keep in mind that these statistics are outdated and have significantly increased over the years which immediately prompts us to demand governments to invest in mental health well-being for their respective nations. But what about on the individual level? How much do we actually invest in our own mental health? How much time do we give ourselves to feel, let alone figure? In order for mental health to be taken seriously on the macro level, the people, need to rid of the social stigma on the micro level. How about some introspection; How many times have you called someone ‘emo’ when they were clearly just upset? How loosely do we use the term ‘bipolar’ for someone who is merely having a bad day? How many times have you thought your peers suicidal thoughts were just an overreaction to life’s trivial problems or even secretly considered them to be emotionally weak as they nakedly confided in you? It really puts things in perspective when we realize we have a lot of work to do as we move forward. Although the number of mental health groups with certified therapists is continually growing and expanding, what makes me wonder is if one was at the brink of choosing to end their life, would a random stranger from an anonymous virtual platform be the last person they'd like to talk to?
Current situation and social stigma
We live in a world where we are constantly under the public eye through social media, and being seen as a strong person has become increasingly important. In recent times, there is a surge in wanting to prove ones mental well-being through individual social media activities, continuous social awareness and content promotion. The term ‘social media detox’ is increasingly common as there is no denying that being an active member of these virtual platforms is becoming unfortunately strenuous and demanding. Whether its superficial standards of beauty, the need to embed extensive productivity or even challenge our social stance to an outcry for a social revolution, social media holds the power to influence in the most subconsciously putrid ways. On the contrary, even with the added pressure of conformity for its users, this outlet also allows them to avail resources for education and awareness on this matter that were never available before. This leads us to the realization that our most vulnerable soldiers are found in the same jungle where all the invisible influential predators lie. No-typo-intended.
To this date, the stigma is still prevalent however mental health awareness is evolving and gradually being embedded in society through various aspects of our life. We are able to see many structural changes where organizations are complying with HR changes in order to promote a healthier work-life balance and a rise in social groups that allow individuals to speak about the matter. I think we can all agree that certain socio-economic backgrounds and cultures are more capable and likely to seek for help, provided they have the means to. However, why do we still have a large proportion of the world who don’t understand how important mental health is on a personal level? How words like anxiety and polarity are not just adjectives to throw about like labels, for the purpose of inclusion in the mental health debate?
We as a society have come a long way but truth be told, that’s mainly due to technology and access to resources. Our mind-set and willingness to change was always in our hands and it still is. How many people need to lose their cognitive battles before people realize how important it is to work on your mental health? How long till governments realize mental health is not a luxury that should be excluded from your health insurance? How would you react if a person dies of a sudden heart attack? And what if that same person had actually chosen to take his life? Do you feel compelled to feel sad for one of the circumstances more than the other? Then you my friend are still part of that stigma.
Here are my TOP 3 reasons for Mental Health Awareness:
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in the three months since the beginning of the pandemic, demand for mental health resources has skyrocketed reporting 41% more calls and emails to their hotline from March 1 to April 23 compared to the same period in 2019.
As we head towards a road of uncertainty due to this unfortunate pandemic, we as a human race will face difficulties adapting to the current as well as the new normal. It is known that anxiety brews from uncertainty and loss of control, which is what each of us face day in day out. Whether we refrain from the media or become more proactive to keep busy, we need to understand that the whole world was not equipped to deal with a virus this contagious nor contemplate the social and lifestyle changes that it would be bringing with it. In uncertain times we need to focus on the certainty that we won’t lose our minds and can seek for help.
Dealing with Rejection & Loss
Okay fact check real quick.
The pandemic is responsible for over 480,000 deaths and counting. According to the International Labour Organization, the pandemic has affected more than 1.6 billion workers livelihood.
And these numbers are increasing as you read. There is no doubt that this pandemic has affected us in so many ways but what is often not focused on is the psychological impact all this is putting on us. As more people lose their lives, the ones left behind are suddenly put in a turmoil of accommodating grievance along with combating the demon that continues to take lives every day. The same applies to all those who lose their jobs and have to deal with not only accepting this harsh reality but also rejection as they strive to make a livelihood with such ambiguity for the future. So what we need to understand is that as much as we are staying safe by staying indoors and socially distancing, are we really safe being with such deadly emotions? With the putrid fear that brews unimaginable realities all day in isolation?
There are various organizations, including the WHO, who are spreading awareness regarding the reality of the mental health impacts of this pandemic. However, the real fact of the matter is how we, as a society and as individuals, are creating a hostile environment for conversation about this matter. I’m sure we check up on each other now more than ever with reference to their physical health, but how often do we ask them if they are worried or scared? How are they managing to stay positive in the middle of all this? And this should be a concern now more than ever. People can mask their feelings of uncertainty and distress through a shield of productivity but that doesn’t undo its existence.
Ability to Process Emotions
According to study conducted by NCBI, On average, people reported experiencing one or several emotions 90% of the time of which, the most frequently experienced negative emotion was anxiety (29% of the time), sadness (20% of the time, and disgust (11% of the time).
“Don’t cry, be a big boy” “Crying girls don’t look pretty” How often are these phrases used to bottle emotions up for what was perceived to be in compliance with societal standing? We live in a world where toxic masculinity and hindering emotional expression is taught way before the ‘birds and bees talk’, and in some cases in replacement of. Some cultures are more emotionally succinct at making children understand feelings and how to process them, but in the case of East Asia, we suffer from the disease of “what will people say” often not realizing we are the same people we refer to and intend on creating the same people too by doing so.
In the current situation, there is no doubt that humans are experiencing wavering emotions and not many know how to process them. People are losing their health, losing their loved ones, their freedom or their livelihood or perhaps all of these together. How does one process such intense emotions of anguish and fright whilst persistently trying to stay healthy? It is important now more than ever to talk about how to process emotions as this is not just about mental health anymore, it is for our survival as a species. Let the gravity of this build on us. We need to emphasize that mental health is just as important as your physical health, for resilience, for sanity and for survival!