Written by Katie Wang
In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, this blog featured a series of stories from courageous individuals who have lived through an incredible amount of emotional pain due to their mental health conditions. I am extremely touched by these narratives; they fill my heart with hope by demonstrating that, even in the darkest times, recovery is possible with the help of professional treatment, support from family and friends, and a great deal of perseverance. I sincerely thank these individuals for sharing their difficult, personal journeys so honestly with our community.
I would also like to take a moment to highlight that mental health challenges can come in all shapes and sizes. Depression, for example, runs on a continuum from normal sadness that we all experience on occasion to paralyzing, debilitating desperation that makes even getting out of bed difficult. Although some diagnostic criteria are in place to help mental health professionals determine when depression requires treatment, the distinction between “usual blues” and clinical depression is by no means straightforward. Furthermore, many people manage to pull off a positive front despite internal emotional turmoil; convinced that they should be able to handle things on their own, some can excel academically or professionally while fighting private battles with loneliness, self-blame, and a wide range of negative emotions that refuse to stay away for long.
This tendency to dismiss any less-than-debilitating distress as insignificant is problematic for two reasons. First, as many of the inspiring stories featured here last week illustrate, chronic sadness or anxiety can morph into more serious problems unexpectedly, often in response to stressful life events such as moving away from home or losing a loved one. Second, living with constant emotional distress can take a surprisingly large toll on us. When we feel down we find it harder to concentrate, so we might need more time to finish an assignment and be more likely to make mistakes. Feeling down also erodes our self-confidence and prompts us to socially withdraw, hurting our friendships and interfering with our ability to problem-solve and make good decisions.
One thing we often overlook is that depression and anxiety are very common mental health conditions, especially for teens and young adults. Though it is rarely discussed, many of us have felt depressed or anxious for extended periods of time at some point in our lives. For some of us, the distress might be so intense that it pervades our lives, making the most basic tasks difficult and leading us to physically hurt ourselves. For others, the distress may lurk in the background; we go on with our daily lives pretending that nothing is wrong, knowing full well that we would fall apart whenever we have a free moment alone. Depending on the severity of our symptoms, we might or might not receive a clinical diagnosis, yet we all deserve self-compassion when we are struggling. We all need to ask for emotional support sometimes, even if we are, by all appearances, doing well. And most importantly, we need to remember that a sense of self-worth and the ability to take genuine pleasures from life are essential components of mental health. Recovery is possible, and we must not settle for less.