A classroom filled with students where they are shown sitting in a circle very engaged with their teacher and peers. (Courtesy: Aspire Public Schools)

Do you notice that people around you are having conversations about mental health? Do you find these conversations to be helpful? These conversations are most often seen either in person but most prominently in social media.

Most Americans deal with mental health issues to some degree—some may experience it on a worse level, but the main point is that talking about it or not, it still exists and is very real for some people. Mental health has been a sort of taboo topic but over the past few years, there has been a drastic shift in thinking of mental health like that. So why not have these conversations? Bringing awareness to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and body image issues can be helpful to those who are showing symptoms, going through it, or do not even know what it is that they are feeling. It offers a level of support for these individuals and reminds them that they are not alone. Talking about these issues can lead to a decrease in negative emotions, demonstrate a support system, and overall bring awareness to issues that may not show up physically.

According to the New York Presbyterian, the most important thing about bringing awareness to mental health is that there is a moment of acknowledgment that help is needed and that one may require treatment from a mental health professional. Another aspect was that telling family and other trustworthy people in one’s life about the mental disorder can signify support and encouragement to proceed with treatments. One of the most important tools when it comes to mental health is talking. The idea of talk as a therapeutic tool was originally coined in the late 1800s by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Freud suggested that talking about mental health can lead to a sense of empowerment, reduce stress and a sense of isolation, and overall aid in improving one’s mood.

While there are many positives to talking and bringing awareness to mental health, there is another side to it. With the recent increase in mental health awareness, schools have incorporated mental health interventions and strategies to support those who are currently going through or showing symptoms of it. In a school setting, these interventions include things like practicing mindfulness, working to identify emotions, and overall creating a conversation that surrounds mental health. The issue that is prevalent in research is that these interventions may not seem to benefit the students as much as was intended.

It is not just that students are not engaging with the practices it is also that while there are more conversations surrounding the topic—there is also a lot of self-diagnosing happening throughout social media. Social media has taken a turn in the sense that many use social media to gather information. The problem with that is, that children and teenagers are on social media more than ever now. According to the Pew Research Center, about 77% of teens say they use YouTube daily, and about 58% of teens say that they use TikTok daily. The main issue is not that there is an increase in utilizing social media, it is that there are no true restrictions on what kind of content will be seen. With the influx of people talking about mental health, there is also an influx of social media creators talking about it. While not all content creators are spreading misinformation about mental health some are glamorizing having a mental disability for views. This can have a detrimental effect on the viewers of these videos because they might feel seen but the information, they are receiving is not that of a professional. Yes, they are getting the chance to feel seen and understood on a level that reflects their mental health, but where are the solutions and strategies for coping?  

Mental health is an important topic to discuss not only for adults but also for children and teenagers. Starting the conversation young, but also providing youth with tools for coping and different treatment options is an important part of the discussion of mental health. Youth must understand what mental health is because so many times, it is not until adulthood that mental health becomes an area that is treated or even acknowledged. In contrast, having this conversation with youth means that there must be a treatment plan, or strategies outlined. Because most information regarding mental health is available on social media without a mental health professional or parent present when engaging with the information, there needs to be a space where treatment and strategies are as readily available as the information they are currently given.

I hope you’ll agree that mental health is an important discussion that needs to occur and there needs to be a better system put in place in terms of coping strategies and strategies in general. So, what can we do?

We can provide youth with phone numbers where they can talk about their feelings, and mental health professionals, provide further information, allow them to ask difficult questions, and overall be their support system. One of the most important strategies is having a support system through a time in their life when they are figuring it out. We can also become a mental health advocate for those who do not have a supportive environment. Another thing that we can do is speak out against misinformation and become more actively involved in our youth’s social media consumption.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health symptoms that appear to be worsening, please visit https://www.chhs.ca.gov/youthresources/ for more information and support.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *