Today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day, acting as a reminder that raising awareness about mental health issues around the world can help in mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. So, what exactly does that mean, and how do we apply it to our daily lives?
Self care has become a hot topic of conversation in my social circle as of late. Being a person in my 30s, I find the more I push myself into the next phase of adulting, I begin to neglect myself. Once I do that, I am less able to be there for my friends, family, and truly, for myself.
Usually thrown about in a flippant manner, I might say something like “I need to have a self care day,” or, “I should do something for me,” yet I rarely get around to it. However, during times of stress or feelings of being overwhelmed, I find that unhelpful coping skills tend to flare up, and I am left wondering, how did things get so out of control, again?
How often do we truly consider the importance of checking in with ourselves, making sure that mind, body, and soul are in alignment and that the mission of balance lends to a deeper exploration than simply making it to yoga once a month or taking a bi-annual bubble bath?
Prioritizing mental health is extremely important and not just for folks who experience symptoms of diagnosed conditions. While things may be going OK, and we are getting by, does that mean that we are truly living our best lives? We all feel the highs and lows of life, but some things can go easily undetected if left idling a bit too long in the lane of “I’ll get to it later.”
The Day it All Changed…
“What I hear a lot is, ‘I didn’t know I was depressed, because I just felt kind of numb,'” said Dr. Laura Lovato, a licensed clinical psychologist with Denver Health.
Dr. Lovato mentioned that a lot of people don’t seek treatment, because, on a basic level, they are still functioning. However, it can be as simple as feeling disconnected from others or not enjoying things the same way. These can be indicators that something bigger is going on.
“We have an assumption of what someone who’s depressed looks like, so it takes a little bit more reflection and being curious about what’s actually going on,” she said.
The LGBTQ community, alongside other marginalized groups of people, experiences occurrences of mental health issues at a higher rate due to the stigma and discrimination many folks face on a daily basis.
“The reality is, it’s not fair world, and there’s going to be very unique pressures and challenges and risks that you face if you are marginalized. That’s real, and that’s valid, and there’s no amount of positive coping that changes that reality,” Dr. Lovato emphasized. “It’s really important to sift through what’s been internalized, unlearning the unhelpful and poisonous thoughts that can be related to bigger cultural issues.”
Queer folks are twice as likely as their cis, straight counterparts to have a mental health condition; however, they are also 13 percent more likely to seek help from a mental healthcare professional. Some communities are less likely to seek treatment, Dr. Lovato said, while other groups may seek support from within their community in a different way, like attending a church.
“We definitely know that there’s differences in terms of who accesses care,” she said. The level of stigma within different communities varies and considerations around socio-economic accessibility and cost of services can all impact the reasons why a person may avoid seeking care from a clinician. These are some of the reasons why World Mental Health Day is so important to acknowledge and embrace.
Protect Our Trans Youth
Additionally, we have recently seen the heartbreaking statistics around our queer youth when it comes to depression and suicidal ideation, particularly in the trans demographic.
High school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers, according to the Center for Disease Control. The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 in the U.S. seriously consider suicide each year
The question is, while the cultural shift is still in the vastly dire in-between of bullying as a cultural norm and LGBTQ acceptance and celebration, have these statistics increased in number, or are we simply getting better at tracking something that has always existed?
“I don’t know if it’s increasing, or if we’re getting better at capturing it; sometimes the case can be that we’re actually measuring it now and paying attention to it,” said Dr. Lovato.
With groups like The Trevor Project conducting these kinds of in-depth studies, the knowledge of how much our queer youth is suffering has become something that can no longer be ignored. Schools across the country are establishing gay/straight alliances (GSA), and as we realize that online bullying is something that will exist regardless of anything we do, more and more hotlines and resources for youth to reach out to anonymously and in confidence are popping up.
Measure and Monitor
Knowing that youth are at a higher risk of facing mental health issues and acting on suicidal thoughts, educators and counselors are taking notice and taking action. On October 2, Metropolitan State University (MSU) hosted a depression screening day inside their counseling center on the Denver campus.
“Screening events like these are designed to reduce the stigma and break down barriers in seeking professional help,” said Dr. Gail Bruce-Sanford, executive director of MSU’s Counseling Center. “Professional staff get to meet students in an informal setting and provide brief, clinical measures that help to detect common risk factors for conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide warning signs.”
Dr. Bruce-Sanford said that based on the results, recommendations are made if there is further professional assessment and intervention needed. For students, counseling services are free, and for any community member in need, referrals are then made to off-campus mental health agencies.
As we enter the winter months, some folks may even experience something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, due to less exposure to sunlight and frequent gloomy days.
From seasonal issues and slight feelings of sadness to extreme cases of hopelessness and suicidal thinking, counselors and clinicians like Dr. Bruce-Sanford at MSU and Dr. Lovato at Denver Health ultimately know that events like depression screening days and World Mental Health Day are really about staging early intervention in order to prevent unnecessary, long-term suffering.
“There is a genetic, environmental interaction that’s going to put somebody in a position where they may be more or less vulnerable to mental health concerns or struggles, but what we know is that these things are treatable and manageable,” said Dr. Lovato. “I really think that the health of our community, the health of our country, all of that, trickles down. There’s much we can do across levels that can really prevent things getting to a clinically significant level: providing people with the resources and tools they need that when things get bad [so that] they know how to manage that and get back to a healthy space.”