Saying the phrase “I’m going to go visit a therapist” is not the first sentence we are used to hearing when we meet someone. In fact, someone who is seeing a therapist may not even tell another person at all throughout the course of the relationship. However, our culture of silencing mental health issues must change in order to solve the crisis that many adolescents face every day: anxiety and depression.
Famous author and scholar, Brené Brown, identifies vulnerability “as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” She continues with the thought, “With that definition [of vulnerability] in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.” Learning how to become vulnerable can be a key difference in getting the adequate help one needs to overcome anxiety or depression.
The problem with anxiety, is that for most of the time, it can be well hidden. This is because teens today are scared to be vulnerable - who can really blame them? Adolescents are watching what’s around them through a lens - literally. The world of technology has created expectations and fantasy realities that those watching can’t seem to compare to. In addition to the perfectly photoshopped moments plastered virtually on every billboard, advertisement, or social media profile are the flawless stories people tell. This creates isolation for those paying attention who think, based on comparisons, that their life isn’t good because they don’t have those picture- perfect moments or stories to tell. They see hard work, underprivileged, and underappreciation in their own circumstances and begin to self-doubt and pity their own abilities at becoming perfect themselves.
This state of vulnerability and insecurity is the fine line teenagers face every single day. Pressures arise from academics, financial, home, and social settings. Whatever the source, the main conclusion here is that the more stress that builds, the more anxiety can potentially arise from our adolescents. However, the nature of anxiety differs from person to person. One might lash out at home while others resort to self-harm methods (eating disorders, addictions, self-harm, etc.) We don’t get to decide if we ourselves or the people around us have anxiety or depression. What we do get to decide, is how we react to those emotions on a social and individual level.
There is no “one method fits all” for how anxiety or depression is displayed or even dealt with. This public health concern should not be an under the table topic if we are the help the next generation become resilient. Fortunately, there are trained counselors and therapists as well as educational programs to help individuals and families understand how to best overcome these obstacles.
One great example of an outreach program is Mental Health America. They provide resources and counsel on how to best communicate with one’s child about these concerns:
- Listen. Really listening means stopping the voice in your own head and try to actively pay attention to person who is speaking. This is hard for everyone, but practice helps!
- Ask if they’ve thought about what they might need to get better. If they haven’t, offer to support to listen and talk it out with them. If they have, support them in following through with their needs.
- Learn. If they bring you information, read it. Learn as much as possible about your child’s condition and the realities of mental health disorders.
- Make sure to keep things confidential, unless it is life threatening.
- Normalize. Assure your child that having a mental health issue is common, and does not mean that they can’t get better.
- Acknowledge your fear, but don’t let it rule your behaviors. As a parent, it is important that we confront stigma or discrimination directly.
- Offer an impartial counselor, and assure your child that information will be confidential.
- Prepare to be an advocate. Finding the right mental health treatment is like finding the right medical provider. It takes time and effort to make sure you’re getting the best care you need.
As advocates for life, HOPE4UTAH is also making strides to educate and promote topics that the general public may otherwise not pay attention to. This resource, as well as others, are not as far as one might think. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get the help you or your loved one needs. Go ahead, be vulnerable. Your state of mind may depend on it.
In addition to this list, more information can be found at the following websites:
Dr. Gregory A. Hudnall
Dr. Gregory A. Hudnall is a former high school principal, student service director and associate superintendent with the Provo City School District. He has been involved with suicide prevention for the past twenty years and has personally been involved with over forty-five suicides as a first responder or consultant. Dr. Hudnall has been an adjunct Professor for BYU for the past 15 years and was named as adjunct Professor of the year. Dr. Hudnall is a board member of the “Faith Communities Task Force National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.” For over fifteen years Dr. Hudnall has been the team leader of a state- wide suicide crisis team that has responded to over twenty youth suicides including a fourth grader who took his life on a school campus and a suicide contagion where five students from one school took their lives. He is the founder of HOPE4UTAH, a non-profit grass roots organization dedicated to suicide prevention, intervention and postvention in Utah. The school-based program, “HOPE Squads” has been responsible for over 1,000 students referred for help. Dr. Hudnall was invited to testify before the United States Surgeon General on suicide in Utah and has trained over 40,000 Utah residents in suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. Dr. Hudnall was invited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to present in Washington D.C. on the Circles4HOPE community mental health model at the “Dialogue on Behavior Health and Community Resilience in LDS Communities.” He is considered as one of Utah’s leading experts in community and school-based suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.