Tag Archives: #worldmentalhealthday

Anxiety, Not Depression

 

“Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But unlike depression, with which it routinely occurs, anxiety is often seen as a less serious problem.”

On the heels of World Mental Healthy Day, The New York Times has followed up with an informative article about the disorder which doesn’t get as much “play time” in the headlines as its more infamous sibling, depression, but is deadly nonetheless.

Benoit Denizet-Lewis has published a well-researched article titled “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Anxiety?” and the answer, though never easy to pinpoint for any one specific person, is sometimes more obvious when looking at entire groups of people. As Mr. Denizet-Lewis writes:

“For many young people, particularly those raised in abusive families or who live in neighborhoods besieged by poverty or violence, anxiety is a rational reaction to unstable, dangerous circumstances.”

And for those who think that those raised in affluent families have it any easier, he adds this:

“Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who has studied distress and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged teenagers, has found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America.”

Not surprisingly, one thing that ties all young people together – rich and poor – is the anxiety brought on by social media. As one college student put it, “I don’t think we realize how much it’s affecting our moods and personalities. Social media is a tool, but it’s become this thing that we can’t live without but that’s making us crazy.”

It’s disconcerting to learn how so many men and women, boys and girls, suffer from anxiety to the point that they shut down. When I was living in Korea, a lot of the people I knew from other countries would dismiss the heightened state of anxiety there as “Koreanness,” what was euphemistically called a “bballi, bbaali (quickly, quickly)” culture. But it’s not unique to Korea, nor does it only affect teenagers fighting to get into university.

It would seem that many of us are having a tough go of it in modern society. However, according to the article, there are certain things we can do to alleviate the pressure. While these activities are sometimes easier said than done, they include mindfulness techniques, art and equine therapy, and exposure therapy (facing your fears).

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that when stress/anxiety starts building in my life, the best thing I can do is unplug from social media and, even more importantly, sit down and read a book. That one single act, I think, is the cheapest, quickest and most effective way to mollify the Demons of Angst and Anxiousness.

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The Letters of Sylvia Plath

 

And still she speaks to us.

Her editors in New York knew exactly what they were doing with this book design. Just as the Instagram campaign highlighted recently, what you see on the outside is rarely what’s happening on the inside. Look at this beautiful blonde woman, the cover beckons us. Striking debutante? Swimsuit model? New wife and mother who has already “recovered” to her perfect form?

Nope. That’s the face of someone who put her head in an oven while her kids were in their bedrooms and killed herself from carbon monoxide poisoning.

More than 50 years after her death, Parul Sehgal (@parul_sehgal) reviews what may the most intimate look at the famed poet and writer in “Sylvia Plath’s Letters Reveal a Writer Split in Two.”

The title of the tome (1,388 pages), edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil, is The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 1: 1940-1956, so you can expect a second volume soon, I imagine.

While works like The Bell Jar are seen as semi-autobiographical, and her poetry now described as “confessional,” there’s no doubt that in these letters Plathophiles will see a side to a woman who has come to represent all that was wrong with mental health diagnosis in the past, especially when it came to depression.

In light of #WorldMentalHealthDay yesterday – and with Plath’s legacy still as strong as ever – hopefully these letters will illuminate parts to her past that have remained hidden up until now, shedding new light on awareness about mental health.

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World Mental Health Day

 

In honour of World Mental Health Day (#WorldMentalHealthDay), what better way to further the initiative than to talk about a subject which is still shunned by much of society. There is no shame in discussing this issue, save the wall of fear we ourselves erect.

And that’s because we are all damaged goods. The difference with many of us is the wrapping paper we put on the outside to make things look pretty. And acceptable. And safe. But underneath the shiny, bleached pulp, we all struggle. We try and make sense of the world. Sometimes we make brave advancements, and other times we cower in fear, unable to face the deafening light of reality.

Deep down, in that cave we don’t let a soul, yet which houses our very own, we spend much of our time when alone. We don’t allow others in lest they scar its pristine walls with their breath, or damage its floor with their stomping.

I can think of two words in English that embody this day very well. Not perfectly, of course, as language is a human invention, and therefore necessarily flawed, but I think compassion and empathy do a pretty good job nonetheless. (In the past, people also used compassionate as a verb. I like that, and would like to resurrect its usage.)

In my experience, compassion is gained by a wealth of human interactions, while reading a wide variety of books inculcates empathy, even in the mean-spirited.

I was watching a TED Talk recently and Joan Halifax Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care — was describing what compassion means to her. You can click on the link above and watch all 12 minutes, but essentially what she said was: “Compassion is comprised of that capacity to see clearly into the nature of suffering…and to see that I am not separate from this suffering.”

If you find yourself struggling on this day, and perhaps on many others, don’t let the fear of your ego being tarnished hold you back from discussing it. If you can’t/won’t talk to friends, loved ones and/or family, there are other outlets. Although not everybody reading this right now will reside in Canada, we are very fortunate to have countless organizations, help lines, institutes, hospitals and peer groups that can help you with this throughout the country.

One of the finest examples of this is the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) here in Toronto. Like any other big organization, it can seem daunting at first to navigate your way through its murky waters, but I assure you the effort is well worth it. Many kind and well-trained people work there and want exactly what you do: to find solutions to tough problems that may feel like they are strangling you from the inside out.

For now, I’ll leave you with this poem and some more information at the bottom. In closing, 안녕히  계세요 (Stay in peace)…

 

My Urn

 

To the urn of which I hallow,

a stark reminder of things past,

I was once a deathly sallow,

but hoped it would not last.

 

Now, in years since passed,

life did somehow turn,

From burning coals and rotten ashes,

to a higher place I’m free to yearn.

 

P.S. Per the World Health Organization, the good people who bring you this day, and their website:

World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.

The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

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