What really impacts our mental health

<span property="schema:name">What really impacts our mental health</span>
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What really impacts our mental health

  • Author Name
    Sean Marshall
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At some point in most of our lives we decide to get fit. Some of us do it to see our grandchildren grow up. Others do it because we can't see our toes in the shower. Then there are those who do it just to have a smug sense of superiority over the lazy, unwashed masses.

Most times when you want to get healthy you eat right, join a gym and sleep the appropriate amount of hours. If you somehow manage to keep up this behavior until it become routine, then society congratulates you on being a healthy person. You get to eat all the oats and do squats all day, while talking about cardio, gains and vitamin blasting.

But there's something often overlooked when it comes to general wellness and healthy living: mental health. Or more specifically, what has the biggest impact on our mental wellness in our daily lives. 

Most people know about mental health and most people know it's serious. It's just something that's not often tied to the idea of being fit. No one would argue mental health isn't important, but we rarely think about how much of an impact our futuristic gadgets and devices have. Things like social media and new drugs can have severe and, in some cases, lasting impacts.

Is the latest technology affecting all of our mental health? Can we really claim the millennial generation is more aware and knowledgeable about mental health? These are just a few factors to consider when thinking about mental health in the 21st century.

Social media and mental health

Everyone and their grandma uses social media. Even dead people have twitter accounts. Chances are if you have electricity, you have a social media presence. By that logic, people who suffer from mental health issues most likely have Facebook too. Then what effects is it having on them?

When it comes to the effects that social media has on mental health, it is uncharted territory. There's certainly no easily accessible study or commonplace knowledge on this issue.

“Social media is a double edged sword,” says Karlie Rogerson, who has volunteered at metal health clinics, been safe talk certified, attended mental health seminars and has promoted mental health for years. When she discusses outside factors that can harm or help those who struggle with mental health, it's with understanding and passion.

Rogerson explains that social media has connected those suffering from mental illness and poor mental health in ways that were not possible in the past. She speaks about how social media has acted as an outlet for those who may feel more comfortable expressing themselves anonymously, on things like blogs. These expressive outlets are extremely helpful and were not possible but a few years ago. This is not to say social media cannot have negative connotations, which Rogerson notes also.

“Social media is where people show the best parts about themselves that are often staged. This can create an illusion for those who are suffering.”  She continues by explaining, “Some people who suffer from mental health issues feel that their life is worse than their peers, when in reality their peers just aren’t talking about the negative parts of their lives online.”

Either way, Rogerson states that things like Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram have made awareness more possible than ever. She explains that the more aware we are of mental health, the more our chances of understanding it will increase. “We have more awareness which leads to more people seeking help, leading to more ways to classify,” says Rogerson.

With added awareness combined with its autoimmunity, the Internet can actually be beneficial. Consider that when people are bullied or harassed for their differences online, they often get just as many supporters as bullies. “Bystanders may feel more comfortable sticking up for someone if they don’t have to do it in person. Social media tends to take away a lot of fear and emotion for both the bullies and bystanders,” says Rogerson. 

She also discusses an odd trend that has gripped the millennial generation: the idea that having the worst mental health makes you a winner. It sounds bizarre, but Rogerson feels that people with poor mental health often treat their issues like a contest. She explains that it often becomes a proverbial pissing contest. The idea is that if one person’s day was worse or one’s mental afflictions are arguably more painful than another’s, they are the winner. The loser then must submit that their life is easier and should stop complaining about their problems.

“No one wins for the worst mental health. Each of those people may need help, there is no reason to compete,” says Rogerson. She stresses that just because your mental health isn't as bad as another’s doesn’t mean it's any less significant. Furthermore, she urges anyone who thinks they have mental health issues to talk with medical professionals and family members first before going online.

Doctors' impact on mental health patients

There are many other outside influences affecting mental health that have arisen in the last decade. One that is often overlooked is the way doctors think of mental illnesses and the people who have them. It sounds foolish to say out loud. After all, doctors spend nearly a decade learning to save lives; they should all have a positive impact on mental health. Gone is the stereotypical image of the warden of an asylum shocking patients and spraying inmates with hoses. But doctors are still human. They still get tired, still make mistakes and can sometimes still lose their cool with unruly patients.

According to Liz Fuller, doctors still have the biggest outside impact on patients. Fuller, being a nurse for over 20 years and having two children suffering from mental illness, can attest that the attitudes of professionals still matter the most.

“What helped my son out of his schizophrenia was the right doctor with the right attitude about treatment,” says Fuller, going on to explain, “The right doctor with an open and positive attitude can prescribe the right drugs or the correct procedures. That makes the difference, that's what can fix people.”

She claims that sometimes a doctor believing in a patient can matter as well. Giving them self worth or just giving them a person to talk to are things Fuller thinks the right medical professional should give a patient in need. In line with these good attitudes is Fuller’s opinion that, “it’s 70% medication, 30% self.” This stresses the fact that recovery is not all drugs and doctors, but can often be attributed to the patient wanting to get better and putting in effort.

Fuller does touch on how social media has made it easier for parents of children with mental health issues to meet up, exchange strategies and give support. However she has only witnessed these tools used by others, never using them herself. She is quick to point out that the current generation is definitely doing better at handling those in need than ever before.

What still needs to be done

Does this mean (even with social media offering insincere looks into people’s lives) between the newer and better attitudes of medical workers and awareness of issues on the rise, everything should turn out fine? Drew Miller says yes, but no one should pat themselves on the back just yet. 

Miller is able to shed light on the situation because of a unique, albeit difficult, life he has led. Not only has he been diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder, but he also spent most of his youth living with a mother struggling with bipolar disorder. Miller explains that almost anything from chores to post secondary education to work all have impacts on mental health. Drawing on his own experiences, he claims that “social media helps to raise awareness of mental illness, but does little more.”

In almost stark contrast to Rogerson, Miller says, “People with mental illness are not likely to share their stories with people online, as much of it is very personal.” He mentions that a lack of understanding can also prevent this. “There is often no simple, single cause of mental illness and because you can't see it, people often doubt or forget it's there,” says Miller.

“There is also a large number of symptoms that can be present and different people can both be diagnosed with the same thing and show completely different symptoms,” Miller explains, continuing with, “People are now recognizing there is more of it out there than they thought before, but they still know nothing about it.”

Miller does think that the awareness that social media has spread is a good thing and that one of the more hopeful characteristics of millennials is the rising tolerance of those suffering from mental afflictions. However, it may not be enough yet.

“I find people are becoming more familiar with the names of conditions, but not what they actually mean,” says Miller. He talks about how social media has not done as much harm to mental health issues, compared to other forms of media. “They tend to be the ones that hurt by incorrectly displaying mental illness to the masses, who then believe it to be correct.”

Of course, Miller is still hopeful for the future, stating, “I have faith that things will continue to get better, even though I may not see a significant change in my lifetime.” Miller wants everyone to know that it will take time for the importance of mental health to be fully recognized, but the stage has been set for a larger effort to improve our approach to it. “The world is certainly becoming more open to the existence of mental health conditions and other issues, but we've yet to achieve understanding,” says Miller.

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