Mental health is one of those topics that is always difficult to approach. There is an inherent vulnerability that comes with talking about the thoughts and feelings that swirl behind the facade that the world sees.
Despite the difficulty of such conversations, it is clear that this crucial topic is becoming rightfully more acknowledged, especially amongst our generation. But what is it about our generation (Gen Z) that makes mental health such a prominent topic?
I believe that it boils down to the accessibility of smartphones and all the tricks, apps, knowledge…and potential evil that is all wrapped up in a six inch screen.
Even though you can find counseling websites, articles about therapy and online support groups with a click of a button, we have also seen a rise in cyberbullying and social-media-induced body dysmorphia.
Ads for mental health treatment — especially pharmaceutical in nature — can be found on every sort of platform. I certainly remember seeing the bright and bubbly antidepressant commercials as a kid, which were more a list of their side effects than anything else — the serious nature of the medication and illness hidden behind a fantasy of immediate happiness and cute family montages.
These conversations started when we were young, but the stigmas are crumbling bit by bit. Yet in some ways society has swung too far in the opposite direction. All over social media accounts sensationalize anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. for relatable content and viral videos, many of which overly glorify and/or trivialize medication.
Yes, meds are a good thing, but they shouldn’t be the first answer to addressing these issues. We know so much more about mental illnesses and wellbeing — and that is a good thing — but people are overtreating mental health in the wrong way.
To be perfectly blunt, not everyone who is sad is clinically depressed. Not everyone who has a panic attack has an anxiety disorder. Before you grab your pitchforks, hear me out.
I’m sure everyone who is a neat freak has made a joke about or been teased for being “OCD” at one point or another. Everyone has hyperbolically complained about being depressed after a trivial incident or during exam periods. But that doesn’t mean that they need to be prescribed anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication.
Jumping straight from a few bad days to a prescription bottle not only misrepresents the severity of mental disorders and suggests medication is a magic fix-it potion, but also harms the people on the receiving end of that medication, as it fails to actually address any underlying issues or trauma.
I’m not saying that you should not address bouts of anxiety or depression. Every college student is bound to face rough weeks; I know that I certainly have. I’m also not saying that medication is bad, just that it shouldn’t be the first answer to a problem.
I am arguing, however, that everyone should book a counseling or therapy session before getting on a pill. I’ll openingly admit that I’ve been to counseling and it has been a huge asset for me.
I genuinely believe in the importance of counseling and its necessity in aiding mental health — especially in reference to the formation of coping skills.
Learning how to cope with bouts of anxiety and/or depression in a healthy way is one of the most basic ways to help boost your mental health. In the realm of university life, it can be very easy to slip into unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or smoking, so it’s best to form healthy ones sooner rather than later.
Whether you enjoy painting, going on a run, listening to a favorite album or praying in the chapel, a calming activity that brings you joy can serve as a great mental reset. Getting an extra few hours of sleep and getting out in the sunshine for more than 5 minutes works wonders as well.
For anyone suffering from anxiety — whether you have a panic attack before a test or after an awkward social interaction — I highly suggest using the Square Breathing method.
You take a deep breath for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold again for four seconds and repeat the whole thing until you feel calm. It’s an easy way to ground yourself by focusing on your body instead of your brain.
There are hundreds of other ways to develop coping mechanisms and I suggest that you look for what works best for you individually. It is definitely more work than asking for a prescription, but don’t be afraid of the challenge. In the end, it is completely worth it.
If you are struggling with mental health, know that you aren’t alone and that people are willing and ready to help you if you reach out. They can help you take a step in the right direction.