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

Trigger Warning: This article discusses issues surrounding mental health, suicide and suicidal ideation, anxiety, domestic violence. Resources are provided at the bottom.

I believe speaking up about mental health is incredibly important. It is terrifying in some very real, seemingly insurmountable ways because of the stigmas surrounding mental health, but it also saves lives, makes us feel seen and heard, and helps us understand one another. Many people believe that admitting they have mental health issues means admitting that something is wrong, broken, and/or unworthy about them, to open up about their battle with their demons is to admit defeat. I am here to tell you that’s not true. What’s too often left out of the conversation is that all of us have a demon to fight. All of us have a vice, a regret, a knife in the back, a fear or phobia, a sense of loss or inauthenticity, or any number of difficult things to deal with daily. Yes, we all have something, but that thing does not define you. Admitting the struggle is a crucial first step toward overcoming your trial, accepting yourself, and finding strength and hope.

I learned more about how important this conversation is when I attended an event at the University of Utah about the anxiety and depression epidemic we face today. The event was called "Anxiety and Depression Across the Lifespan." I was blown away by the number of people who showed up, having taken time out of their night in the middle of the week because they all recognized the importance of joining and continuing the conversation about mental health. With special regard to anxiety and depression, the two most common mental health afflictions today, we banded together to talk about the demons so many of us face. The panelists were phenomenal and 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.

I should note 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 below are some of the biggest takeaways I got from this experience.

  1. 1. Be mindful and kind, above all.

    You never know what someone may be going though and what would make a difference for them.

  2. 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 they'll be made fun of – vulnerability is a sign of 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 struggles within hobbies like video games or woodworking. 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. 3. Anxiety is normal when we are young, but it is not common when we are adolescents and adults.

    An example of this could be Separation Anxiety. It's all about attachment to our parents or caretakers and survival, but it becomes a greater issue when we grow up, can fend for ourselves, and must become more independent. Keep in mind there is a huge difference between suffering from anxiety and experiencing stress. Stress is healthy, motivational, and can be very useful; anxiety is one of the most common mood disorders and can be debilitating when untreated or unmanaged.

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

    men sitting on bench

    You are worth it and it is perfectly fine and good to seek help. Seeking help should be celebrated and normalized.

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

    Utah is a part of the “Suicide Belt” and poor mental health is correlated with high altitude. 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 inhibiting 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. Furthermore, 85% of Utahns take antidepressants. You are not alone.

  6. 6. Men and women attempt and die by suicide using different methods.

    Men are typically more “aggressive” about it – remember, aggression can be a symptom of mental illness. They are more likely to hang themselves or use firearms whereas women are more likely to overdose. Furthermore, men are also more likely to die by suicide later in life compared to women. This information must become more public knowledge so we can see the warning signs, limit access to high-risk individuals, and prevent more people from dying by suicide.

  7. 7. 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 the world is full of romantics who want to make light of the situation, but they fail to recognize the tragic truth. The panelists noted murder-suicides are most commonly borne 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.

  8. 8. Learn a better way to join the conversation.

    A couple sitting at a table with two glasses of wine playing Jenga. The blocks are knocked over.

    Saying things like, “Get over it”, or “Look on the bright side” are not helpful when approaching someone in a bad mood, let alone to someone in crisis or battling mental health issues. Instead, try first listening – 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. Validate them and what they are going through, and keep in mind you may never 'understand' their situation, but the point is that their situation matters, and their feelings, fears, and thoughts are real and they matter.

  9. 9. Everyone must join the conversation to end the stigma surrounding mental health.

    For true progress to be made in conversations and views about mental health, everyone must contribute. People must participate in the hard conversations about individual struggles, societal issues in general, advancements in individual's mental health, access to resources, and begin to normalize having these conversations. For us all to grow, we all must engage.

  10. 10. There is an ever-growing list of resources available to us, and legislative action is being taken to help improve mental health resources and access in Utah.

    Please take advantage of the resources available to you and your loved ones. They are there for a reason and should be utilized more. Like seeking a physician's help, employing these resources is a great way to put yourself and your mental health first.

People all around have begun to speak up about their mental health battles and, I, for one, am so grateful and proud of each person who opens up about their mental health, and the ones who listen. It is not an easy conversation, but it is a crucial one. How will you join the conversation?

Hotlines and Resources  

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Zero Suicide

University of Utah Counseling Center

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

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: (800) 950-6264

Help Me Grow

To read more about the “Anxiety and Depression Across the Lifespan” event at the University of Utah, please follow this link.