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Why are mental health disorders so common?

By Sophia Goodwin-Rice

As I was scrolling through Facebook a couple weeks ago, I made an interesting observation. Among the usual photos and happy birthday wishes, my feed was filled with a striking amount of cries for help: lots of my friends, usually between 18 and 25, posting short sentences about how their depression has gotten worse, and how panic attacks and breakdowns have become the norm for them. It’s heartbreaking to read, yet also sometimes so relatable and almost normal. It seems like it’s become accepted that young people will almost always be struggling with some sort of mental health problems, and an internal pain that the rest of the world hasn’t quite figured out how to fix.

Someone could write a whole book, and many have been, about the biological factors behind mental illnesses, explaining the hormone imbalances and neurotransmitters involved. But what struck me as I was reading through those posts wasn’t just the fact that depression and anxiety exist, but the fact that they seem so widespread, and almost expected. So why? Why is Bishop so booked that it takes weeks to get an appointment? Why did the events described at Reality Check hit so close to home for so many people? Why does it seem like the majority of posts on Tumblr and other forms of social media are self-deprecating jokes centered around mental health issues? Why are we struggling?

This may seem self-explanatory, but perhaps it’s responsibilities. Not the responsibility of becoming an adult, living away from home and taking charge of your own life; which, as we’ve all learned, simply comes with age. Rather, the pressure to fix the world, to change the future, and to be happy while doing so. Through books, movies and TV shows, we’ve seen the perfect lives we should be living up to. Through news of current events, we’ve seen the world we should be making a better place, even though it becomes continuously harder to do so every day. And in college? In an unfamiliar place, with all sorts of new pressures and expectations, getting to those goals seems even more difficult.

And then there’s the fight towards happiness, towards feeling content enough to smile all the time and never really worry about much. Older generations refer back to the “good old days,” when they were young and carefree, but is that just hindsight talking? Were young people ever really completely joyful and free of worry, and is it only our generation that has become trapped in mental boxes? Is this a new development, or have people always struggled, and this just happens to be the first time that society has acknowledged it? Do we just have to be resigned to the fact that we will always be “mentally ill?”

I don’t know the answers and I doubt many others do either. But what I do know is that it’s okay to not always be completely okay. It’s not a bad thing to cry, or to wish things would change, or to be sad and anxious and scared. It’s hard enough feeling like you’re struggling without feeling guilt for the said struggle. When the American College Health Association has found that suicide rates in young people have tripled since the 1950s, and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 41.6 percent of college students see anxiety as one of the top concerns among their peers, you know that something is wrong. It’s the least we can do to not stigmatize it anymore.

Lastly, remember that, as humans, it’s not all just about having money or saving the world or having the picture perfect life designed by you or someone else. It’s all about living.



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