Opinions, Column

Transgressing Mental Health Stigma

Spring has always carried a sense of new beginnings for me, so I always look forward to it. My fondest memories of spring are not necessarily the big moments, though. It is the small changes that do not significantly alter my schedule or my habits that impact me most. The birds in the morning that wake me up, the smell of coffee mixed with fresh morning dew, the warmth of the sunshine masked by the soft brush of wind—these aspects of springtime make the weight of the mundane, everyday things feel lighter. Like the feelings spring brings along, when I was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, everything I saw around me realigned. I felt lighter. It was my new beginning. 

I am one of millions of Americans who experience some sort of mood disorder in their lifetime. I think this statistic made the diagnosis relieving. The fact that so many of us have brains and bodies that malfunction made me not feel alone, and made it easier to accept myself. 

It was really difficult for me to gather enough self-esteem to talk about mental health, especially on social media. But, as this generation has grown older, I have seen more people open up on a variety of platforms. Conversations about mental health have expanded, but I questioned why I typically see more discourse on mental health on stereotypical “young people platforms” like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok. Older generations often use social media to attack kids for their desire to seek acceptance from others, driving a wedge between emotionally honest young adults and emotionally uninterested older adults. This divide then limits everyone’s ability to destigmatize mental health.

Sometimes, this means that younger people stick to those digital platforms that are targeted toward us, like TikTok and Instagram. My friend Kevin has started posting on Instagram about his own personal experiences with mental health, calling it “Therapy Tuesday,” and opening up about a wide array of topics that otherwise are only talked about in whispers. In response, many people around my age left comments of support and appreciation for his honesty. 

Contrast this with conversations with older generations, where I have had to defend my own use of therapy and the mere validity of my diagnosis—is it really a surprise that the younger generation can’t seem to find a common ground in which they can talk about mental health? Comments I have received when talking about my depression always seem to be “Oh but you don’t seem sad!” and “Well if I need therapy, I just do x, y, and z!” But these comments tend to always come from the same people who have toxic or detrimental coping mechanisms for their own (obvious) mental health issues. 

To some degree, the sentiments adults have are reflected in the younger generation. It seems too easy to quickly post some sort of infographic online dedicated to the idea of “destigmatizing mental health.” People also use social media platforms to put their best foot forward, which typically involves constructing a false narrative that they are happy and carefree, and in turn, neglecting the concept of mental health altogether.

So, the challenge of opening up about mental health has therefore been placed almost entirely on the shoulders of this younger generation. My generation has been met with little to no respect from the older generation surrounding this topic, conveying the sentiment that we are not valid for posting or talking about mental health. It is imperative that we destigmatize mental health among older generations.

Because of my generation, the future of society is going to be deeply rooted in emotion, but having emotionally inept adults now is only going to perpetuate the strain between “old” and “young” people that we already see now in other arenas like fashion trends and politics. With rising rates of depression and anxiety in younger generations, mental health should not be a “young person issue,” but rather an “every person issue,” because we are all human, and everyone’s mind is equally fallible.

Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau/ Heights Editor

April 18, 2021