Comments like this are typical for my teen clients. They openly discuss their mental health and therapy appointments. They exchange ideas and experiences during lunch. They even encourage one another to seek professional help when they are cutting themselves, depressed, anxious or suicidal.
Yes, times are changing and I am proud of how this young generation respects their mental health.
But there is a strange divide. For my clients who are only ten to fifteen years older, I am far more likely to hear
"This is so embarrassing"
"Why am I so messed up that I need to be here?"
"I hate that I have to go to counseling."
"No one I know goes to therapy."
(To which I often say "How many people know you're here?" I guarantee you that your peers are going to therapy. They just don't talk about it- same as you.)
And after hearing this over and over I have to wonder: what gives?
Mental healthcare is receiving more and more attention. In fact, recent data suggests that over 25 million people in the US went to therapy in the last 2 years alone. That's about 1/10 adults. Truly, therapy has become culturally normal, despite some of us still feeling secretive about it.
Of course some clients know this. More and more I hear clients openly refer to their therapy process with friends and family. I do believe that overall, the trend is slowly turning and mental healthcare is beginning to be seen as normal and even necessary. Yet still, there is a quiet idea that we should all make it to our graves as happy and mentally healthy people without any help or expertise.
As we age, we expect to submit to cancer screenings (some invasive!) We share our physical struggles with friends and family. We have patient care websites for more serious health battles. We undergo surgery and publicly ask for prayer. We go to Physical Therapy when we're injured. We see nothing wrong with any of this. We (rightfully) cheer one another on!
Somehow we have accepted that our physical health will require our purposeful attention as we age. We know that our body will take wear and tear and if we want it to remain vital, flexible and strong- we must do something about it! That's awesome!
So why? OH..... why!? Do we see our mental health so differently?
We expect to go through life filled with death, tragedy, loss, divorce, trauma, abuse and aging... without ever needing support. We expect that, unlike physical health, we should possess all our own answers. We expect that the accumulated affect of aging and living life should have no long term consequences. We should basically be able to use the techniques we learned in early childhood- for our entire lives. Without ever acquiring new learning. This is insanity!
Bottom line- life takes a toll. If you are fortunate to live long enough, you will endure trauma, loss and tragedy. It is unavoidable. I celebrate those who understand that mental vitality, flexibility and strength takes purposeful effort. It does not happen by accident.
I think we can all conjure an image in our minds of an angry, inflexible, and emotionally-limited elderly person. The truth is, unaddressed emotional injury makes us rigid in the same way physical injury does. Vitality comes at a cost: our purposeful effort.
In the same way that I salute my marathon-running friends, I salute those who devote time and energy to being mentally healthy. Both are an accomplishment deserving of respect.
1. Seek out new learning
2. Solicit expert perspective when needed
3. Devote time and energy to growth
4. Challenge their rigid patterns
5. Try something new
...are on track to a vital and meaningful aging process.
I look forward to the day when adults speak without fear about their journey through mental health. From watching my teens, its awesome! They're never alone with their struggles and they cheer one another onward to health.
Onward to health!