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Are You Ok?

How are you doing? When you read that, did you answer honestly or did you give the answer that you give other people? Some might reflexively answer, “ I’m good” or “doing ok” or even “I’m blessed”. Our answer is usually just a part of our greeting and doesn’t really reflect how we are actually doing. Albeit, it usually depends on who is asking, but we generally don’t answer honestly. “I’m exhausted from life today”. “I don’t think people like me”. “I’m afraid that I’m making a huge mistake”. “I need more friends”. “I feel like I can’t handle what’s happening right now”. These statements have something in common. They are what many of us are afraid to say out loud, but they reveal the truth about our present state of mind many times. Why don’t we say how we feel? I would venture to guess that it’s because we don’t want to be seen or viewed in a certain way by others. We don’t always admit it, but we really do care about how people think of us.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that “it’s not ok to not be ok”. We decided that our mental state was a reflection of our character, as if experiencing depression and anxiety is an indication of our morals. If you haven’t heard it already today, your feelings matter. While there’s a difference between being impacted by your feelings and being controlled by them, they still matter. Do you know what ogres and onions have in common? Well, as Donkey from the movie Shrek found out, they both have layers. Humans, with all of our life concerns, relationships and experiences, have layers. No one is one-dimensional. We are all connected to aspects of our lives that may not be immediately seen from the outside. We have layers and our layers aren’t always easy to separate and process on our own. 

Our brain is an organ. We don’t think about it the same way that we do our heart or our liver, but it is. I think it’s because the effects of our brain, when it comes to mood, emotion, and experiences, don’t seem as life-threatening as the other major organ. However, we must pay just as much, if not more, attention to our minds and the not so physical effects of our mental health as we do our physical health. How we feel and think affects so much of our lives. How we perceive experiences, how we connect with others, and how we take care of ourselves are all connected to the health of our minds. Even more detrimental is mental health awareness for teens. Not only are they negotiating the various complexities and layers of emotion, social connectivity, morality, and trauma with which we all contend; they also are at a developmental stage where perceptions of themselves are heightened, still being formed, and vulnerable to influence. They are also transitioning from childhood, a time of life when they don’t have many responsibilities or awareness of the realities of the world around them, to adolescence, a time of life when their fragile view of the world is being shattered, they are being called on to carry more responsibility, they begin to engage in more weighty relationships, and they are grappling with the transitions happening in their lives as they go from child to adult. This is not even taking into consideration the trauma that some may endure in less than desirable circumstances and the effects of social media on their psyche. 

We don’t like to think about it, but our mental health has a real effect on our physical life. We do what we believe. (1) According to the CDC, in 2020, suicide was the 2nd highest leading cause of death for young people between 10-14 and the 3rd leading cause of death for young people between 15-24. The effect of mental health can’t be understated. (2) According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 6 teens between 12-17 years old experience a major depressive episode in 2020. 3 million teens had serious thoughts of suicide. Those numbers may be alarming and you may have continued reading this blog being slightly disturbed by the notion that many young people are considering ending their lives. However, if you don’t have a personal connection with someone struggling with mental health or if you aren’t struggling yourself, it’s hard to put into words the impact that it has on your life and the lives of loved ones. 

If you’re a parent, a teen, or just someone who wants to know more, you may be asking yourself, “What next?”, “What should I do”, or “How can I help my loved one struggling with anxiety, grief, depression, trauma or just needing some emotional support?” It’s hard to know where to start on your mental health journey. Here are some mental health tips to get started: 

  1. Know that you are NOT alone. 
    • There are so many people who are in the same situation as you and trying to figure out the next steps as well, even if you don’t know them or aren’t aware of them.

  2.  It’s OK to not be or feel ok.
    • Many times there is shame and pride attached to our feelings of anxiety or depression, and that’s because of the stigma associated with psychological needs. But, to be human is to be imperfect; and sometimes being ok with that is a big step when it comes to our mental health.

  3. Help is warranted, even if you don’t think your struggle is serious enough.
    • I’ve heard it once said that “the worst thing that has ever happened to you is still the worst thing in your life, even when someone else’s worst thing seems more intense”. It’s ok to seek support when others have “suffered worse”.

  4. Don’t do it alone. 
    • Whether it is you who is struggling or you are a loved one supporting someone who is struggling, garnering the help of a professional is always in order. You can never be too careful.

  5. There’s nothing wrong with scheduling a professional check up. 
    • Just like you go to the doctor for a check up every now and then, a check up with a mental health professional is ok to put into practice, even when everything seems ok.

  6. Know the danger signs for suicidal ideation. 
    • (3) Some of them include:  
      • Talking about wanting to die and being a burden to others
      • Feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live
      • Withdrawing from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items, or making a will
      • Making a plan or researching ways to die
    • If you are concerned about someone having suicidal ideation, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK or text “HELLO” to 741741

  7. Finally, do a self check up. 
    • Mental health struggles come in many forms and they don’t look the same on everyone. Practicing good mental health requires some intentionality. Sometimes we need to take a break from social media, connect with friends or loved ones in person, go for a walk, see a movie or reassess a relationship that may not be healthy. 

Mental health is serious. It takes time to learn what we need for us to be healthy. Some things have to be unlearned, like the notion that we are weak if we need emotional support. You aren’t weak. True strength is identifying the source of your struggle or your need and seeking help. So, in the words of a famous performer, “Annie, are you ok?”

But really, are you? 

Dionna Warren

Mental Health Resources

National Alliance on Mental Health

National Institute of Mental Health

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-TALK or text “HELLO” to 74174