As featured in The Thought Catalog
Every 40 seconds someone, somewhere successfully makes the decision to take their own life. That makes 3,000 deaths per day and over one million per year. For every death by suicide, there are 20 attempts. In recent months I’ve been reading the circulated media pertaining to America’s rise in depression and anxiety, which undoubtedly correlates with the 25% rise in suicide. Reading of Anthony Bourdain’s death shattered my heart and has me thinking of those I knew who took their own lives, as well as those who almost succeeded.
Is our current environment of social metamorphosis outpacing our mental health system and causing this astronomical rise?
Mental health in America has reached a crisis point; it is arguably one of the most important topics in today’s modern society. There is no question that depression and anxiety are in fact diseases that in many cases do require medication, but let’s think logically. When it comes to physical health, use high blood pressure as an example, we know you can’t just take a pill and expect exuberant long-term health results. One must change their entire lifestyle. Eating better, exercising regularly, drinking less alcohol while striving to better an overall physical being is generally recommended by a physician in addition to blood pressure medication. Why do we look at mental health differently? It’s time we start looking at the current and past environment around us as triggers and mind-altering substances to better combat this disease.
You are a product of your environment. Why is the rising number of depressed and anxious teenagers being thrown down a perplexing path to suicidal thoughts?
Did you know that more one-third of Americans are taking prescription medication that can cause depression?
A study published Journal of American Medical Association warns that over 200 commonly prescribed medications have serious side effects of depression. Some of the mediations include birth control pills, antacids, blood pressure medications, and painkillers. Nearly 37% of Americans are taking at least one of these medications. Now keep in mind this research is still in the early stages, so much of the linkage and correlation are still hard to prove. Nonetheless, these findings make sense. Our current mental health system is not equipped to provide enough resources and outreach for all the people affected. People should be warned up front about this side effect, especially those with a history of depression, and encouraged to explore options like yoga, meditation, and psychiatric services to aide in combat if the symptoms arise.
Speaking of mental health, how many of people in America get paid mental health days? Anyone? How many people can call their boss to say, “Hi Joanne, I really need to use a mental health day to get my head back together. I’ll have your report to you tomorrow before 5.” The outcome? My guess is 80% of companies would not support this excuse for taking a paid day off, it would come out of your vacation time or sick leave, that is if you even have separate paid and sick leave (I sure didn’t). Companies should encourage employees to be aware of their mental state, especially in high-stress jobs. How much does your health insurance pay for you to see a basic physiatrist? When I worked in the corporate world the answer was zero dollars. Adults employed full time in America work an average of 47 hours per week, equating to 6 days a week, according to Gallup. In fact, 40% of full-time workers log 50 plus hours a week, longer than every other major economy in the world. This leaves minimal time for families and even less time for themselves.
There is no question parents are working more hours at high-stress jobs to compete in a global market and create a predefined definition of “success” leaving less time for their children. Children and young adults can see these effects; they pick up on it and absorb it into their own persona like a wet sponge.
The same pressures and anxieties are then transferred onto themselves to be the best, the smartest, the most athletic. To get into the best schools and the best companies; have the newest car and nicest clothes and large circle of friends. When symptoms of hyperactivity, sadness, and anxiety arise we use pills, and more combinations of pills to alleviate them because parents don’t have enough time to spend getting to the root of the problem. These pressures actually seem normal. We mask symptoms just enough to get by. Until one day these children are adults and use drugs or alcohol or relationships and sex to fill this void they’ve never been able to rid. They put on that fake smile and strive to do better, to be better, because maybe then they’ll finally be happy.
Teachers and school systems bare the greatest burden of all, how do you help multitudes of children and young adults who don’t even know they need help?
Recognizing when someone may need help has come a long way in recent years, but the emphasis of having the highest GPA, participation in every extracurricular under the sun, and obtaining scholarships for overpriced higher education is still at large. Young adults who aren’t the keenest in certain subjects or have behavioral and anxiety issues many times get put in a box. They are disregarded because they don’t fit in the right category. Instead of priming these student’s strong suits and finding where they DO fit we focus on where they don’t.
Education is an extremely important asset, as a country we need to realize that the same avenue of education that works for one student does not work for all.
Standardized testing does not measure aptitude but the ability to answer pre-designed questions in a short time frame. In addition to academic stress students also face tremendous social anxieties. Have a large group of friends and thousands of followers on Instagram, have certain clothing and contoured makeup to fit in. Hollywood is slowly starting to change their perspective in movies and TV shows. I credit Netflix with some amazing new series like 13 Reasons Why and Atypical, but a lot of the damage has already been done and will take collaboration, time, and patience to mend.
Can we acknowledge the part we’ve played in this catastrophic shift? There is not one entity to place fault, but a multitude that creates a whole.
We cannot fix one without fixing another. Together through discussion, recognition, and a rejuvenated approach America as a whole can rise to the occasion. I’m not sure exactly where to start or where we’ll end, what I do know is: you are a product of your environment but it is never too late to change.