World Mental Health Day

This past Tuesday, October 10th was World Mental Health Day, which focuses on raising awareness about mental health concerns around the world to ultimately mobilize efforts to support mental health. While I know I don’t have to state the obvious, we are nearly in 2018—a time in history where technology is at a forefront and medical procedures are becoming much more advanced. Regardless of the progression taking place in certain fields such as technology and medicine, mental illness is still a concept that remains stigmatized in many, if not most countries across the globe—including ours.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million, or 18.5%) suffer from a mental illness each year and approximately 450 million people around the world are currently suffering with a mental health issue (NIMH, 2015). Only 41 percent of adults with a mental health condition received help and just over half (50.6 percent) of children ages 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year (SAMHSA, 2014).

In 2010, the CDC reported that 57 percent of all adults believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness. However, only 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness. While efforts have been made to reduce and eliminate the stigma towards mental health, as a society, we are far from attaining this goal.

Time and time again, I have heard individuals say that people “should” be able to deal with “tough times” on their own. The response is simple. If you were to fall and sprain or break your leg, would you seek medical care or “should” you be expected to deal with this “tough time” on your own? Should you just walk it off until everything is better? That’s not a viable or realistic solution, and if we can understand and accept the significance that mental health plays in our daily lives, similarly to medical health, we can each work to break this stigma.

In life, we often find that the act of being vulnerable (to an extent) leads to the attainment or accomplishment of goals. Or at least, it puts us in the direction of doing so. For example, when searching for jobs, we find ourselves engaging in a state of vulnerability as we partake in job interviews—often a scary process for many. Asking somebody out on a date requires a level of vulnerability, as you cannot ensure the outcome you would like. Trying a new restaurant when you already have your top three go-to places also involves being vulnerable because you have no idea whether or not you’ll enjoy the food and dining experience.

So just what happens when we take this step into vulnerability? Well, for starters, you find out in the job interview if the company is the right fit for you, and vice versa. You have the opportunity to analyze the interview and note what went well and how you can improve for future job interviews. When you engage in vulnerability and ask somebody out, there’s the possibility that the person will say yes. Of course, there’s the possibility that the person will say no, but you may never know what their answer is unless you ask. And as for the restaurant, you may end up with a new favorite dish and/or dining spot, or you may realize you never want to go back there again. But we won’t be able to attain these answers and knowledge if we don’t at least try something new.

So when we look at mental health and discussing our own personal mental health, yes, this is another experience in which vulnerability may likely be required. It can be uncomfortable to openly discuss what has been going on in our lives and how that has been affecting us. It can be challenging to freely discuss how we are feeling when it seems as though preconceived notions on the part of others may constantly be present. And it can seem impossible to honestly discuss when we aren’t doing too well. But this is how we break the stigma. We have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is playing our part and finding the courage to be more open regarding our mental health.

Promoting a greater level of mental health starts by speaking up. We cannot expect to break a stigma that has been around for centuries if we don’t practice what we preach. While I can attest that at times, this is easier said than done, what is it that we have to lose? By confiding in a confidant, we allow ourselves the opportunity to be heard. We give ourselves a change to really explore how we are doing without censoring ourselves. And we let ourselves be supported—another act of vulnerability.

Can we overcome “tough times” on our own? Honestly, who cares? Strength can be found within each of us, and overcoming challenging life obstacles by oneself doesn’t define personal strength. Personal strength can often be found in reaching out for a helping and supporting hand. There is strength in numbers, and if we can create and foster a support system and find the courage to open up, we can begin to break the stigma of mental health, while working on and maintaining our own mental health as well.

By no means is this a clinical perspective for anyone dealing with mental health concerns. This is more along the lines of what we can do to break this stigma. Should an individual find themselves in need of help, open up to a confidant and let them know what is going on. If they don’t listen, find somebody else. And if it is an emergency, do not hesitate to call 9-1-1. Know there is a plethora of mental health professionals who are here to listen. Collaborating with a mental health professional to receive treatment and accomplish any goals one sets for themselves is always going to be an option. We just have to be vulnerable by taking the first step.

There is one designated day in the calendar set aside to focus on mental health. (Granted, I missed that day, but I guess it’s better late than never). It is up to us to ensure that we focus on mental health everyday so that being vulnerable and honestly discussing how we are doing is something people can take pride in. We will be the ones who set the standards for how future generations view mental health. But in order for any change to happen, it must start with us.

 

Below are just a few of many available mental health resources:

https://www.nami.org/Find-Support
https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/index.html
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml
https://www.goodtherapy.org

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PASEO Program Adventure- Day 7: Huanchaco, Trujillo, y El Porvenir, Peru

Today consisted of another set of observations in a different school located in El Porvenir. While speaking with the principal, she informed me that out of 936 students (just in the secondary school alone), there is only one psychology intern for them to confide in, should they need to speak with someone. The resources are limited, and no matter how hard the teachers try to build their students up, so many of their families continuously tear them down.

The principal mentioned that just last week, two students got into an argument, which led to one student punching the other in the face. When the school called the student’s parent, the parent came to the school and almost immediately hit her child in the face upon hearing what happened. Fortunately, school administrators were able to intervene, but only for the time being. Unfortunately, what happens when the student returns home is considered a different story. 

With regards to continued education, many times, parents will tell their students that after secondary school, they can no longer continue their education because they need to start working and bringing in an income for the family. In other cases, the children aren’t even given that option, and will drop out of school so that they can work instead. 

While the principal explained that the school does have successful alumni who they are very proud of, there aren’t many. The mentality is typically to continue working where the parents work upon graduating (if the students complete secondary school), and in this particular city, this usually involves selling goods in the local market or making shoes. 

Just a few months ago, Peru experienced a devastating flood, which destroyed many houses and local buildings. One of the teachers spoke to me about a student of hers who was knocked down during the flood and nearly drowned. He hasn’t been able to focus on his school work ever since, and understandably so. Many of the students’ houses were destroyed in the flood as well, which led to them having to stay at the school in the days following the flood. As of this moment, most, if not all of them still do not have a home. 

The resources are scarce and lots of the familial situations aren’t conducive to fostering a child’s development in a safe and loving environment. But the students continue to smile, laugh, and find a way to continue to persevere. For many of these students, school is the only place where they are given the opportunity to do so. 

After a long day of observations and class (which I’ll discuss in a later post), I went to a local restaurant for dinner with a few of the students on my trip. Papa a la Huancaína (boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce called Huancaína sauce.) and tallarín saltado con pollo was the perfect way to end the night.