Anxiety and Depression Across the Lifespan: Joining the Conversation to End Mental Health Stigmas

Speaking up about mental health is so incredibly important. It is terrifying, in some very real, seemingly insurmountable ways because of stigmas surrounding mental health. Many people believe that admitting to mental health issues means something is wrong, broken, and/or unworthy about the person open about their battle with their demons. What is left out of the conversation is that all of us have a demon to fight. All of us have a vice, a regret, a stab in the back, a fear or phobia, a sense of loss or inauthenticity, or any number of difficult things to deal with. We all have something, but that thing does not have to define you. Admitting the struggle is a crucial first step toward overcoming the affliction or trial, accepting yourself, and finding strength and hope.

I attended an event on the University of Utah campus about the anxiety and depression epidemic that we face today. The event was called “Anxiety and Depression Across the Lifespan.” I was immediately drawn in by the event title, and I knew it was worth taking the time to go. Boy, was I right. I was blown away by the number of people who showed up late at night in the middle of the week because they all recognized the importance of joining and spreading the conversation revolving mental health, especially in regard to anxiety and depression, the two most common mental health afflictions today. The panelists were phenomenal and were incredibly encouraging and passionate about spreading the conversation. Too many people are afraid of talking about mental health afflictions because it is spreading like an epidemic, but it is not a contagion; it is a social condition perpetuated each time we shut down the conversation, discredit someone suffering from mental health issues, or lose someone to suicide.

It was not the mere conversation that made this event so impactful, but it was also the information shared with the audience –information I have been distributing ever since. Here is the link to a video of “Anxiety and Depression Across the Lifespan,” and some of the biggest takeaways I got from this experience:

1. Be mindful above all. You never know what someone may be going through.

2. Men and women exhibit different symptoms linked to anxiety and depression. Because of gender stereotypes, we are taught that men should be “strong” and “manly.” They are told to bottle their emotions or be made fun of. Vulnerability is weakness, so cry alone in your bed where no one can see or dive into your work like everyone else. Men participate in escapism more commonly than women meaning they try to bury their pain and struggle within hobbies like video games or athletics. Men are stereotypically thought of as aggressive, but aggression, bottling emotions, escapism, and withdrawal from others are all signs of mental health issues. These signs are too often ignored.

3. Anxiety is normal when we are small (think Separation Anxiety), but it is not common when we are adolescents and adults. Keep in mind there is a huge difference from suffering from anxiety and experiencing stress. Stress is healthy; anxiety is a very common mood disorder.

4. Consult a physician if you believe you suffer from anxiety, depression or other mood disorders and seek help. Please. You are worth it.

5. On average, one person dies via suicide every 14 hours in Utah alone.

6. Men and women attempt and commit suicide using different methods. Men are more “aggressive” about it (remember aggression can be a symptom of mental health issues). They are more likely to hang themselves or use firearms whereas women are more likely to overdose.

7. Men are much more likely to commit suicide later in life compared to women.

8. Murder-suicides are domestic violence and should never be romanticized. Older couples, especially, are often romanticized in the media when a murder-suicide takes place because America is full of romantics, but they fail to recognize the tragic truth of the situation. Murder-suicides are either committed out of suicidal intent where the victim chooses to take someone with them when they take their own life, or it is with homicidal intent often followed by remorse for the murder driving the murderer to take his or her own life.

9. There are so many legislative initiatives already in place, and they are adding more and more surrounding mental health, making it easier to get help.

10. There is more than one way to get help. Keep trying and find one that works for you.

11. Utah is a part of the “Suicide Belt” and altitude absolutely contributes to poor mental health. Perry Renshaw, a professor at the University of Utah, contributed to the conversation by sharing surprising statistics about how high altitude affects mental health by blocking access to oxygen and inhibiting serotonin levels. The brain actually stops producing serotonin a mere two hours after getting off a plane in a high-altitude destination; imagine the effects on someone who has lived at a higher elevation their whole life.

12. Learn the right way to join the conversation. Saying things like, “Get over it” or “Look on the bright side” are not helpful when approaching someone in a bad mood, let alone someone dealing with mental health issues. First listen, really listen to them and provide a safe space for them to tell their story. Genuinely express your concern for that person and show respect and empathy for their situation. You may never “understand” their situation, but the point is that their situation matters and their feelings, fears, and thoughts are valid.

13. 85% of Utahns take anti-depressants. You are not alone.

14. Everyone needs to join the conversation and keep it going.

15. There is an ever-growing list of resources available to us.

Hotlines and Resources  

  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • Zero Suicide
  • University of Utah Counseling Center
  • Safe UT Mobile App
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: (800) 950-6264 
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Helpline: (800) 662-4357
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Line: (800) 622-2255
  • LGBT National Hotline: (888) 843-4564
  • Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Hotline: (800) 897-5465
  • Drug Rehab Hotline: (855) 789-9197
  • Planned Parenthood Hotline: (800) 230-7526
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: (800) 422-4453
  • US Dept. of Veterans Affairs Veterans Crisis Hotline: (800) 273-8255

There are a bunch more out there as well!

People all around have begun to speak up about their mental health battles and, I for one, am so grateful and so proud of each person who opens up about their demons; however, “It is not a sexy story.” At the beginning of the event, Mary Nickles from KUTV News remarked how impressed she was by the sheer numbers of the crowd that night because a few years prior she chose to share a heartbreaking story about a boy who attempted suicide but survived. He now talks through a computer and shares his story to help prevent others from attempting. While beginning his journey and sharing his story, his brother succeeded in committing suicide. The family chose to continue to speak up and out about mental health, but because it is not “a sexy story” the ratings were terrible. Taboos about mental health make stories like this unattractive and uncomfortable, which is exactly why we need to continue to talk about it.

It is not an easy conversation, but it is a crucial one. How will you join the conversation?

 

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