Denise Brodey. Contributor Author.
Former editor-in-chief turned journalist New York Times, Glamour, and @HuffPost.
Change Is Already Here
There is a lot of discussion about the healthcare system’s sad state if you try to get help for a mental health issue. But this isn’t a post about systems; it’s about a divide between people. It’s about how different generations deal with mental health and the deleterious effect our differences are having on young people in particular. Why is there a divide? Many Baby Boomers grew up not talking about mental health, particularly their own, and had few avenues to find help outside their doctor’s office. Where does the divide begin? There’s a clear split between people over age 55 and those who are younger. Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, who are typically more reserved when talking about mental health, are having trouble relating to younger people and coping with mental health challenges. The time to change that? Yesterday. How do we push past that barrier?
First, Ask Yourself: Am I Part of the Problem?
Ask yourself: What if my bias against talking about emotional and social issues prevents me from helping other people? What if I personally understand the effects of stress, depression, and anxiety because I suffer from it myself. But I absolutely refuse to reveal those issues to my colleagues in any way? With all due respect, ask yourself if you may be the boulder-sized block on the road to wellness for the people around you.
Do You Believe That Technology Can Help People Make Meaningful Connections?
Experts often say that a crucial part of staying mentally healthy is social connectedness. And there’s your first problem—a digital generation connects differently than people who didn’t grow up with technology at their fingertips. My theory: Humanity responds to caring words, whether they come from a phone line, an app, a text, or a keyboard. The more people who believe that, the more people we can help.
Are You Suggesting Only Resources You Would Be Comfortable Using?
As a member of Generation-X, the numbers 911 are seared into my brain. I need to commit the numbers 741741 to memory, too, because they will connect anyone, anywhere in the U.S., to a live, trained crisis counselor who receives the text and responds, all from a secure online platform thanks to Crisis Text Line. The service is free and saves lives through conversations over text. (Literally, all you need to do is text HOME to 741741.) Are those numbers likely to be top of mind for someone over 50? Not as many as there could be. (Although, yes, they do get calls from people of all ages.)
Still, it’s stunning to think that there are people who may not understand the instantaneous, far-reaching power of text to save lives. Even though I have a background in health reporting, I hadn’t really thought about reaching out via Crisis Text Line or other text services for help and support—for me, a friend, or one of my children. I also doubt that many grandparents are offering up a text service to their college-age grandchildren. Why not? The reason could be as simple as the fact that they know little about them.
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It takes courage to text Crisis Text Line, but texting is an attractive option because it is silent (it can be done at work or with others around you) and private. “You can text from anywhere. A board room or a bathroom, 24/7,” says Ashley Womble, head of communications at Crisis Text Line. “The average conversation lasts about 45 minutes and could be a lot less. We could be there for someone during the 15 minutes they have a panic attack.”
Apps make it easier for peers to connect and help outside of a clinical setting.
Are You Aware Of The Power of Peers?
Many people disregard peer counseling as a helpful part of addiction recovery, mostly because they have no idea what it is. Peer counselors (who must earn a certification) have been suggested to work particularly for people with severe mental illness. They can fill gaps in care when people need someone to listen to them or offer companionship (services not generally provided by a counselor or doctor). The top three issues for people in recovery are loneliness, social isolation, and managing their day-to-day mental and physical health. That’s where the role of certified peer specialists (CPS) comes in, says Karen Fortuna, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine Dartmouth College. CPS’s have lived experience (meaning they have recovered from either the same or similar issue) and a unique skill set. Their role is part of a network of care. Using smartphone apps helps clients to track their progress and show it to their CPS. “It’s a holistic way to help. CPS is using smartphone apps to reach people in their homes and their communities and offering real-time peer support services outside of a clinical setting,” says Dr. Fortuna.
Is Your Company Really Helping People With Mental Health Issues?
Or are they simply providing a packet of resources and sending you out the door in search of therapy? It’s time for older generations of human resources executives and leaders to align their policies and managers with a new generation. In many workplaces, employees say that mental health problems are stigmatized or misunderstood, and they get no support or strategy for improving the situation. Only 3.2% of employees self-identify to their employer if they have an invisible disability, according to a National Organization on Disability study. Again, that may have a lot to do with the generational or cultural difference.
The takeaway for employers and employees of a certain age? When employees’ values do not align with their employers’ policies, they are less likely to stay, and if they do, they will likely be less productive. For years, Gen Xers like me, diagnosed at one time with anxiety, depression, stuck it out in silence. Younger generations are about to upend that tradition. They are sick of covering—hiding part of their identity from coworkers. Think back to when the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain made headlines. Several friends were truly stunned and saddened, the same way others are now when talking about the recent news of more death, this time by suicide, in Parkland and Sandy Hook. The news can be a gut punch, especially for people dealing with similar issues in their own families. Do employees typically discuss the news and its effect on them at work? No. I call it the elephant in the office. It’s right there—stigma, discrimination, ignorance, or lack of education—and no one says a word.
Mental health issues are complex and require a combination of therapies that most often occur outside of work. This post is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support via phone to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7days a week, across the United States. Call NSPL at 1-800-273-8255. Or use Lifeline Chat if you have access to the internet. Crisis Text Line, also free, confidential, and available 24/7 in the U.S., can be reached by texting HOME to 741741.
I am a former editor-in-chief turned journalist (New York Times, Glamour, and @HuffPost). I write about mental health and its effect on families and work. “The Elephant in the Playroom” (Penguin) reveals what life is really like for 41 families raising a child living with a disability. Twitter: @dbrodey