Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Week: Help is a Phone Call Away

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." - e.e. cummings

We often associate youth with a healthy appetite for life. In these moments, which we’ll eventually refer to as the good ol’ days, we have an unwavering devotion to not only having fun, but ambitiously pursuing our goals.  While these characteristics can often lead to a fulfilling 80+ years on Earth, the pressure of maintaining a social life and thriving career is often a major source of stress, which can easily lead to depression. While we know “everyone’s dealing with it”, sometimes that reassurance is not enough to quell the feelings of being overwhelmed. In 2007, both the CDC and the National Institute of Mental Health cited depression as a major risk factor for suicide, particularly among young Black males. 2008 studies showed that rates had again started to rise, when the previous level of stability was reached in 2003 after a sharp increase in the '80s and '90s. In 2008, you may have heard about a 19-year old named Abraham Biggs, who committed suicide by overdosing while a populated chat room watched via webcam.  You would think that as students, (as individuals between ages 15-24 usually are) who have access to free or discounted health care services on campus, we would have no problem combating depression and other mental illnesses. Suicide rates should be low among our age-group, because we have such ease of access to care, right?

Wrong. The stigma associated with mental illness sometimes causes an even bigger barrier to healing than does access to care. The African-American community has an especially negative outlook on mental illness, which could spur from a number of different cultural influences. Dr. Annelle Primm, deputy Medical Director for the American Psychiatric Association, once cited the religious and spiritual center among many African-American families as a barrier to acceptance of mental illness. There is an association of an inability to deal with depression and sadness with a lack of faith. A large challenge for Black males is a heavy emphasis on masculinity; with the struggles that African-Americans face on a day-to-day basis as a minority population, Black men often serve as the impervious guard for the community. Seeking counseling is often seen as a sign of weakness.

By 2008, rates of completed suicides were still higher among males, while suicide attempts were more common among females. Whites and blacks leveled out in the rate of suicide among males.  I found no CDC or other major health institution reports on suicide more current than 2008. A lack of current literature on the topic may mean that the rates of suicide have leveled off or begun to decrease, as another increase would likely spur more research into the issue. I still consider it highly important, however, to continue to market that mental health counseling is nothing to be ashamed about. The CDC recommends using this website to search for inpatient and outpatient mental health counseling. Growing up is hard enough- if you or someone you know need to, seek help so you can continue to pursue your dreams, and live a happy and healthy life. There's a lot to look forward to, and we'll be looking back on the good ol’ days soon enough.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

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“Ultimately, happiness rests on how you establish a solid sense of self or being. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in your life. To be filled each day with a rewarding sense of exhilaration and purpose, a sense of tasks accomplished and deep fulfillment- people who feel this way are happy. Those who have this sense of satisfaction even if they are extremely busy are much happier than those who have time on their hands but feel empty inside.” – Daisku Ikeda