Confronting Mental Health Issues Head-On

Like many millennials, I enjoy being involved in different groups outside the working hours. One group I am actively involved in is a bible study for women my own age where we often find ourselves doing equal amounts of “life-talking” along with “studying”. We are all battling similar young adult issues: some looking for their first job, while others are looking to get out of their first job. No topic is off the table – we’re all just trying to stay sane while we figure out this crazy post-college world together.

That is, until one took her own life.

She was 25 and had the world at her feet. Her outlook was like an open book ready to explore and her kind nature was a magnetic pull for everyone she was around. The thought of this upbeat beautiful young life gone forever was shocking and unbelievable. I wrestled with a single question: How could this happen? In my head, suicide stories usually surround Hollywood stars, not people I know.

Since this happened I’ve had some time to think and reflect. I learned this young woman had maybe too much on her plate between work and school. This caused her to pull away from her social outlets including our tight-knit group just when she probably needed us the most. As I recalled this situation the buzzwords that kept hitting me were, “metal health”. Ask me six months ago what my thoughts were on this now all too familiar topic and I would have given you a blank stare. Where our forefathers grew up with a grin-and-bear-it mentality, our society today is more keenly aware how external forces mess with our mojo.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services defines mental health as our, “emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices”. It can affect anyone at any age. Some well-known examples include phobias, depression, chronic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The National Alliance on Mental Illness says 1 in 5 American adults will experience mental health problems each year. The breadth of those dealing with this is so much broader than I had originally thought.

While there are many factors that lead to mental health issues, I read one of the key triggers is social isolation. Just within the last 20 years social media has become a channel for people young and old to join online communities. Although we know this has its shortcomings, it shows our primal desire to connect with others. If you find yourself looking to get involved and broaden your social horizons there are many ways to begin. Start with finding an activity you enjoy and get locked in. Walking groups, sports leagues, exercise classes, book clubs, art workshops, the list could go on and on. Volunteering is another great way to meet new people who hold similar interests and it has proven health benefits too. Studies conducted on individuals who volunteered for as little as 100 hours a year not only felt emotionally better, but also lowered their blood pressure which contributed to an overall longer life span. Seeking to surrounding yourself with other supportive and encouraging people has a multitude of benefits.

Employers too are recognizing the need to support their workforce with environmental changes. During a typical work day, we can expect to spend approximately 50% of our waking hours on the clock which makes our workplace a huge factor in our overall wellbeing. To combat social isolation in workplace design the walls and high panels have come down allowing employees to have community with each other. Collaborative areas likewise encourage planned and spontaneous meetings where projects and daily life are discussed. Companies have moved away from focusing on maximizing individual employee square footage, in favor of social inclusion areas for the wellbeing of all. Becoming a part of a community verses sequestered in a high panel environment can pay huge dividends for the employee.

While we continue to learn and develop our understanding around mental health and wellness, it is important our personal and working environments support and reflect our social tendencies. We cannot expect to address every emotional battle, but by creating an environment that nurtures a sense of community with our peers, doors of communication will be opened. Who knows, it might just save a life.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or on the web at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

Sarah Brooks