Me, You, Culture & Anxiety
I never discussed my mental health publicly before.
I’ve been treating my anxiety and OCD for nearly a decade, and this is the first time I’ve put it in writing.
Like everything else in my life, this piece is overthought and meticulously strategized — in this case, around extinguishing stigma. Timing has even been considered. World Mental Health Day is Oct. 10. Bear with it all. It comes together. Promise.
For context, I’m conflicted whenever I see content related to mental illness.
On one hand, I’m frustrated by how cliché and surface-level many pieces are. Mental health, like climate now, is so omnipresent that we’re just numb to it. McMindfulness.
It’s already been nearly a decade since the romanization — or fetishization — of mental illness amongst teens has been spotted, and “wannabe depressed” has been coined.
But on the other hand, I’m deeply appreciative of any attention the issue receives. For as long as more people are giving it thought.
I think another conflict of mine is how rare — yet so effective — “the person” is in our everyday discussions related to mental health. We speak of “generations” and “the crisis” — but in reality, it’s a me thing. And a you thing. Admittances tied to real names just hit differently. Maybe because it’s so rare? Hearing someone casually drop “my therapist” means so much. If you know, you know.
Anything to personify mental health, and make it feel less ethereal or generic. Faces, voices, confessions, and stories. Humanizing prevalence is so scarce. Anything to feel less alone.
This is something I continue to struggle with. Troubling inner experiences are already agonizing enough. Feeling like you’re the only one who’s ever felt this way is another beast.
To this, my all-time favorite content related to mental health is The Child Mind Institute’s #MyYoungerSelf campaign, which tapped celebrities with mental illness to record advice for their younger selves. Their advice is meant for kids and teens — but it’s really for all — and the “Oh! Them too?” is incredibly. fucking. powerful. Bill Hader has anxiety too? Nice.
But these stories take courage. And to extinguish stigma, if you’re not a celeb, reach and influence is tough. Therefore, hard-hitting numbers also work great. This is a bit more prevalent, but radical, wow-worthy, straight-forward stats are few and far between.
Statistics expose and exhibit enormity. 50M young adults currently battling anxiety is perhaps worthy of some prioritized recognition and newly proposed solutions. 615M people are living with a mental health condition globally. If this universality can help encourage more personal sharing — publicly or privately — we’re well on our way.
All this said, ending stigma requires a two-pronged approach: (relatable) voices and (intense) numbers.
This past year, I was introduced to Project Healthy Minds, a non-profit confronting mental health. Their focus resonates. They’re building tech and programs, making it easier to access care, but also producing anti-stigma work. I believe we need a Truth Campaign for mental health.
So, back to this two-pronged approach... by recognizing the wild scale of this emergency with these hard numbers, and by lending a voice — whether you personally know me or not — I hope it encourages more people to discuss their experiences, again, whether publicly or privately.
Isn’t it ironic that one of the most prevalent strains on society, is also the least comfortable to discuss?
Dan Hoffmann, Head of Marketing Strategy for Project Healthy Minds shares,
“I firmly believe — and the data supports this — that our generation’s increasing prioritization of mental health, and their willingness to discuss it openly with less fear of stigma, will have a profound impact on mental health in culture, in the workplace, and more.
Millennials and Gen Z are ready to lead a mental health revolution — but their challenges are real, and many barriers still remain. We need to make it easier for everyone to access mental health services.”
So, into the data. Here’s what was found...
In a survey of over +1,300 young adults (18-34) in the U.S. nearly all (96%) report experiencing anxiety in their lives today.
And nearly half (46%) say they experience it “frequently” or “all the time.” Let that sink in.
Almost half of U.S. young adults are regularly anxious.
The kicker... these numbers haven’t improved since their last survey in November 2020.
This plague is not ebbing.
The pandemic was fuel.
As I forecasted earlier this year, “Societal Scarring” is one of the most overlooked trends influencing culture today.
“Incredibly resilient — or just numb at this point — we’ve gotten great at glossing over that fact we’re still living through a pandemic.
COVID-induced cognitive turmoil, so expansive and so intense, will leave a scar... we just don’t know how badly as the wound is still gushing. A vaccine doesn’t heal this.”
2-in-3 young Americans say they’re emotionally exhausted or burned out, with young women reporting poorer mental health than men across virtually every issue. And 54% of young women report feeling anxious “frequently” or “all the time.” A gender-induced stigma difference or not, 38% of men experience anxiety “frequently” or “all the time.” But this isn’t a difference worthy of treating any differently.
However, when it comes to those who identify as LGBTQ+, they are 3X more likely to report their mental health as “poor” compared to straight or heterosexual respondents. They’re also 2X as likely to experience anxiety “all the time.”
After all, mental health is so intertwined with social issues. Systemic racism, police violence and mass shootings contribute to these significant differences. Of course, these issues only compound already existent (and intensifying) concerns including climate instability, financial insecurity, employment opportunity, pandemic ambiguity, political unpredictability, and information uncertainty.
Here’s the good news: A sea change of sentiment is swelling.
Sweet. fucking. relief.
Young people are 2X more likely to say their mental health is more important than their physical health.
As a result, newfound priorities are revealing themselves as young adults reconsider who they choose to work for, which brands they buy from, and who they vote in. The bar is high...
77% would leave a job if it was negatively impacting their mental health. Employers, you reading this?
60% say they would be more likely to buy from companies who are known to support their employees’ mental health. Marketers?
And nearly 70% of voters under 35 say the government is not doing enough to address Americans’ mental health challenges. Politicians, hey, you too.
For now though, if it’s not the employer, brand or politician leading the charge, it might as well be each other. Celebs and friends. That’s who’s moving the needle.
45% of young people say hearing celebs or public figures talk about their struggles inspires them to improve their mental health. Just this year, we’ve already heard Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and Demi Lovato speak up.
And 68% of young people also say hearing friends, family members or coworkers talk about their struggles also inspires them to improve their mental health. When trust, intimacy and relatability coat the message, it’s easier to act.
Stigma is a Catch-22. We don’t speak up because of stigma. And there’s stigma because we don’t speak up. But if we can’t speak openly about our shitty experiences, how are we ever going to change them?
We can’t end stigma, by just broadcasting the empty words, “End the stigma!”
We need to interrupt this exhausting cycle.
Voices and numbers.
Transparently, writing this was uncomfortable. It’s also not lost on me that I haven’t dived deep into anything that sensitive or revealing. I also somehow wrapped my sharing of experience in some strategic comms theory — sound or not.
But this worked for me in my personal journey to try to help end stigma.
And I hope you’re motivated to find and lean into what works best for you.
You’re not alone.
And according to these numbers, none of us are.
Cool. Now that that’s out of the way —