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: Final Thoughts

I wanted to be sure to end on an important note before I officially conclude writing about my experiences in Peru. Throughout the past two months, I spent a lot of my time working in El Porvenir—an impoverished city in northern Peru. This past March, Peru experienced an awful huaico, or flash flood, attributed to the phenomenon of El Niño. As I mentioned in posts throughout the past few months, we heard firsthand accounts from locals who live in El Porvenir and other cities in northern Peru about how the huaico affected their daily lives, and I spoke with various faculty members and school administrators about students whose participation in school has decreased due to having lost their homes in the flood. As I wrote about earlier, one student in particular was trapped underwater as the flood tore apart his home.

Just days after this particular flood (because keep in mind, there are many), the Peruvian government stated that the death toll had reached 94, while estimates reported that 700,000 individuals were left homeless in 12 of the country’s 25 regions. Nearly six months later, there are still so many individuals affected by the flooding whose lives have been changed ever since. When driving into El Porvenir, one can spot the zona de las damnificadas (pictured below), or the area of the victims. In this designated area, temporary housing (tents) have been set up alongside the street for families who lost their homes in the flood.

While living in a country filled with resources and opportunities for all (ideally), it can be easy to forget just how fortunate we are. I wanted to dedicate this post to those who have seemingly been forgotten, and to those who have been impacted by the devastating natural disaster that changed the lives of so many. From the children who cannot focus in school because they continuously re-live the scene of being trapped underwater to the parents who lost the homes they spent years saving up to afford, and everyone in between.

This post won’t help any of the affected individuals currently living en la zona de las damnificadas. This post also won’t change the stigma associated with mental health in Latin America, and more specifically, Peru (which is another concern). This post won’t help individuals realize the importance of seeking out mental health care, and it won’t make any difference whatsoever in changing the way the public hospital systems work when caring for individuals without resources. This post won’t increase the number of resources in Peru regarding mental health care like there being 1 psychiatrist per every 300,000 people within the country.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, statistics show that nearly 5 million people (11.8%) in Peru suffer from some type of mental illness. 700,000 out of 1 million Peruvians suffer from depression, while 200,000 out of 1 million Peruvians suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. Less than 4 percent of these individuals receive services in specialized centers. Why, you may still ask? Fifty percent of such individuals believe they can overcome their mental illness on their own. Thirty percent don’t believe in treatment, and thirty percent don’t know where to go to receive services. So no, this post won’t help increase the number of individuals who receive services in specialized centers, and it most definitely will not decrease or eliminate the sense of shame that so many people associate with mental illness within the country. 

Realistically speaking, my words and my blog post can’t accomplish any of that. But what we can do is this: we can work together to appreciate what we have. As soon as we can learn to find gratitude and accept the term in its entirety, we can seek out ways to help those around us. There are so many people in need of help and assistance everywhere you turn, but when we become engulfed in our own lives, we often turn a blind eye to situations around us, and understandably so. But if we don’t help those in need, who will? 

It has to start with us. As for finding a solution to problems throughout the world, well, I haven’t gotten that far yet, and frankly, I doubt that I ever will. But if we can each find a way to work together and use the resources at our disposal to try and make the slightest difference—whether in somebody else’s life, in the community, in a different country, or on a global scale, that slight difference will hopefully make a lasting impact that will better the lives of those in need. Yes, I understand that this is much easier said than done, and it’s just a bunch of words written on a page that probably won’t be read by many. But we have to start somewhere with something. And I guess this is that starting point.

As I conclude writing about my experiences in Peru and the incredible opportunity that I have been given, I kindly ask that we work together to not forget those who have seemingly been forgotten. Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” If you ask me, I think that’s the perfect starting point for all of us.