When was the last time you took a brisk walk, without a plan, just to get some fresh air? Or a long soak in a bubble bath just because you had the time? How about the last time you found yourself halfway through a bag of chips – did you stop to consider if you were truly hungry? Have you ever turned off your phone just to avoid the incessant notifications and calls that were coming through?
If you read the above questions and your answer was “I can’t remember the last time I did that,” to even one of them, you might be neglecting your mental health, and it could be detrimental to your overall well being.
You might not realize it, but the state of our mental health drives a lot of these decisions for us.
Earlier this year at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco, Gregory Plemmons presented an alarming study that showed that over the last decade, the number of children and adolescents admitted to children’s hospitals for thoughts of suicide or self harm has more than doubled.
Doubled. In a decade.
The study highlighted that approximately 13% of the children included in the study, taken from administrative data from 32 children’s hospitals across the Unites States, were between the ages of 5 and 11 years old, while more than half of the participants with suicidal thoughts or harm were between 15-17 years old. The majority of participants overall were, perhaps unsurprisingly, young girls.
Recently I signed up for the RBC Race for the Kids taking place on September 16th here in Toronto, and because the race aims to raise money and awareness for youth mental health, it got me thinking about my own.
I’m not a kid anymore; at 27 I am told I am now a bonafide “adult,” as much as the thought sends a shudder down my spine. But, to that same point, only now at 27 do I feel I have a true understanding of the role mental health has played in my life thus far, and will continue to play going forward.
Sometimes I consider how differently aspects of my life might have gone if I had resources as a kid that I am able to get for myself now.
As a kid, I struggled with anxiety and depression. Something former teachers and adults in my life coined, “emotional difficulties” and “laziness.”
At the time, I didn’t understand that these feelings were caused by societal pressures and stress to perform well in front of my peers and family, and that if I had just focused on whatever task I had at hand instead of the fate of my future being pushed down my throat, I probably would have had a much more relaxed and carefree upbringing. Instead I started to recluse, often times receding into my bedroom for solitude, busying my mind with games like the Sims, where I was able to experience life without the crippling doubt of reality looming above.
It was when I was just a young kid that I would begin to use food as comfort, a poor habit that would follow me well into adulthood. It would lead to episodes of binge eating and further stress caused by the fact that I had messed up my hunger cues and no longer had a concrete grasp on what a sensible portion size was, or why nutritional information was actually important. I would find myself feeling broken and ugly because my weight fluctuated so frequently and no matter what diet I put myself on, I would always wind up gaining the weight back. As I got a little older, I began smoking, because it gave me a break from whatever I was doing for just a couple minutes.
If I had resources then, as a kid, to understand positive coping mechanisms for stress, I may have never started emotional eating, or smoking. I may have sought out my family and friends for conversation rather than hiding away in my room by my lonesome, aiding to the cloud of depression that was lingering above in those moments.
It was only recently, in the last year, that I had enough financial freedom to afford to pay for a therapist and uncover all the events and feelings that were crippling my development, but kids and families without that freedom shouldn’t be left out. If we’re going to truly end the stigma of mental health, we need to make it possible for everyone to have access to counselors, therapists, classes, and programs that encourage positive habits and coping mechanisms.
It has always been time to talk about mental health, so let’s continue the conversation.