One’s psychological, social and emotional well-being shapes their mental health, which is important for an individual to be able to cope with stress, perform meaningful work, contribute positively to the community and work fruitfully. More recently, societies have seen the adverse effects of neglecting one’s mental health in the rise of mental illnesses which are responsible for disability, increased rate of suicides, substance abuse, chronic physical illnesses such as aches, pains and gastrointestinal distress and for contributing to the global burden of disease. It has therefore become increasingly apparent that this neglect of an invisible concept has led to tangible issues.
Statistics show that 1 in 5 teenager faces a mental illness, however misinformation, social pressures, neglect, discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment. The most common mental illnesses in teenagers include anxiety disorders, conduct disorders, depression, ADHD and psychosis. Such mental illnesses may stem from many causes including the unhealthy culmination of emotions and thoughts, increased use of and access to social media/technology, frequently occurring violent or emotionally abusive events, an unhappy family life as well as societal and cultural expectations.
Stigma surrounding the idea of seeking professional help has been the main hurdle preventing affected individuals from getting treatment for their mental illnesses. When psychologists, therapists or psychiatrists are collectively referred to as ‘shrinks’ by the common masses, feeling shame, embarrassment and fear will too become common when seeking professional help for a mental illness. Furthermore, when statements like ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘it must be that time of the month again’ are used to brush over behaviors and actions that could point to a mental illness, the disparity between gender roles will be exacerbated contributing not only to phenomena such as toxic masculinity, but also to the creation of unstable adults with the same toxic mindset. When advice such as ‘be grateful’ or ‘cheer up’ is given to a teenager struggling with feelings of overwhelming sadness or anger, they will be forced to feel abnormal and rejected which will push them farther away from help and into a state of distressing isolation.
Additionally, it has become somewhat of a juicy trend in many societies to break down and criticize the process of self-discovery teenagers go through in which they seek to establish a safe metal space for themselves. This trend translates into the eventual setting up of expectations and societal dogma which must be met for a growing individual to be accepted. Often times, the overbearing pressure to meet these expectations compels teenagers to conceal their inner feelings, desires and wants from their family and friends, which not only hinders their process in discovering a safe mental space for themselves, but also leads to anxiety and stress. If left untreated or unidentified, stress and anxiety can gradually lead to suicidal thoughts or self-harm. The youth may also be pressurized to maintain an unsuitable lifestyle being normalized by social media platforms, further adding to their stress and anxiety.
If we are to break the stigma and advocate for mental health awareness, we must actively participate in normalizing not feeling okay. We must push for reform and greater inclusion of the education of mental health in classrooms. We must support measures which seek to establish mental health care centers and those which integrate mental health care into primary health care. We must work to create a new normal, encompassing people of all physical, mental, emotional and social backgrounds.