The Exploration of the Mind: Let’s Talk about Teenage Mental Health and the Ongoing Stigma

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Photo by: Katherine Leaffer ’22

Katherine Leaffer '22

Mental health should not be a stigma.

According to the Jason Foundation, on average, over 3,703 suicide attempts are made by today’s youth every day. Suicide is the second leading cause for teenage death in the United States. More teenagers die from suicide than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED! Around 1 in 5 teens struggle with at least one mental health issue. Nearly 1 in 3 teens struggle with some sort of anxiety disorder. The stats do not stop here. The ratios are getting smaller and the numbers are increasing every second.

There are over 100 neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are the body’s “chemical messengers.” There is dopamine (oversees pleasure), serotonin (controls our behaviors), and more. The fluctuation of these neurotransmitters can determine the result of your mental health.

The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center at CU Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora is one of the first depression centers to not only study the brain, but provide care for those who are dealing with mental health issues. They have three goals. 1) To promote mental health as a key to healthy living for ALL Coloradans. 2) To develop, provide, and disseminate effective care for people with depression and bipolar disorder. 3)To eliminate barriers to quality care and healthy communities.

“Mental health is like Voldemort,” says Scott Cypers, the director of Stress and Anxiety programs at the Helen and Arthur E Johnson Depression Center.

In Harry Potter, nobody wanted to talk about Voldemort and called him, “He Who Must Not Be Named.” They thought that if they talked about Voldemort, they would give him more power. Harry Potter and Dumbledore were the only people who did not believe that. And they were the ones who defeated him. This means that the only way to defeat mental illness is to talk about it and say it by its name. Mental illnesses are not a stigma.

“We have come a long way with our understanding of mental health,” says Cypers and, “Coming to therapy creates hope and there are things that can help with your mental health challenges. To not avoid getting that help because it can really make a difference.”

Tips on ways students and teenagers can help their mental health.

  1. Go outside! The lack of Vitamin-D can cause many health problems.
  2. Get exercise. Exercise reduces anxiety and depression by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.
  3. Talk to someone. Simply just talking to a friend or a psychiatrist can help your mind figure out coping mechanisms.
  4. During COVID-19, find ways to focus on yourself. Take care of yourself.
  5. Recognize that having anxiety during this time is completely normal.

A group of students were asked their thoughts on mental health. They were asked one simple question, “what is the most important part of your mental health and why?”

“The most important part of my mental health is probably my happiness. I think happiness is very important to everyone’s well-being and even motivation. I think especially when I am happy, I am more motivated. I want to get more done and I am determined to do better. I think when I am not happy it is easy to have little motivation.  Happiness is important to me because I think when people are happy, they are kinder and more caring.  Something that makes me happy is spending time with friends and family. I think especially in times like these it is important to do things that make you happy when there is so much to be negative about with COVID-19 and everything that has brought up in our lives.”

“The most important part of my mental health is to not overwork myself because I will always stress myself out more and then by the time I am done, I’m drained mentally and physically. With overworking, I also can get more stressed out which can just lead to chaos in my head. “

“Right now, because of COVID-19 doing stuff active really helps.  Stuff like snowboarding and wakeboarding relieves a lot of stress.  Also having a creative outlet is great!  I have been learning guitar and it really helps to learn something like that 10/10 recommend.  Music also helps me a lot.”

It is important that people make their mental health a priority. With the plague of uncertainty through politics and COVID-19, it is easy to get distracted from your mental health. When mental health is stigmatized, people may feel reluctant to ask for help. Not only do people struggle with the symptoms of the mental illness challenge, but they struggle with the prejudice that they face. The person can be robbed of the opportunities that life gives them. Self-stigma also exists. People who feel like they should shame themselves for having a mental illness, often feel like they are worthless. Mental health is a fight worth living for.

You don’t have to suffer alone in silence,” says Scott Cypers.