We’re all not okay

Mental health needs to be prioritized during difficult circumstances

Isa Luzarraga, Editor-In-Chief

As a therapist’s daughter, I’m no stranger to divulging my feelings. Whether in the makeup aisle at Ulta or during family dinner, my mother, lovingly, asks, “Are you okay?” And to be honest, I’m not, and that’s okay.

Younger generations, millennials and Gen Zers, have become more comfortable disclosing their emotional roadblocks, challenging the stigmatized notion of coping with mental illness in private. While some might view the “I’m not okay” assertion as overly dramatic or attention-seeking, it’s become more important than ever to acknowledge personal discontent and find effective strategies.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2019, nearly 30% of young adults aged 18-25 were diagnosed with a mental illness along with 25% of 26-49-year-olds. These disorders compounded by the stressors of the pandemic have increased in number.

The Center for Disease Control found that nearly 40% of adults reported struggling to cope with mental health or substance abuse, exemplifying this state of “not being okay” is not isolated to teenagers.

The causes of our shared mental decline are very obviously linked to the uprooting of our routines due to the pandemic, but we can’t rely on vaccinations or the opening of restaurants to mitigate our sadness. Health institutions like the Mayo Clinic advise us to practice self-care, exercise to boost endorphins, limit screen time, and eat healthily.

Much easier said than done, especially during a global upheaval. What many therapists, like my mother, sometimes fail to mention is the importance of acknowledging and accepting your feelings.

There is of course value in these typical mental health boosters and certainly merit in employing perseverance and grit.  However, maybe a more unconventional step is unnecessary.

We’ve been conditioned to respond positively when we interact with others and they ask us how we are. It’s much easier to respond with “Good, how are you?” or some other typical exchange. Of course, I’m not advising the expression of your despondent feelings to every person on the street, but we need to realize the value of confiding in others.

The Mayo Clinic cites making connections, while social distancing, as a form of combatting depression and anxiety. Find others to confide in; it doesn’t have to be a host of professional or family members. Just reflect on who you feel the most comfortable with when talking about your mental health.

I’ve started being more honest with myself by expressing my true emotional state to those close to me. After a nine-hour day at school taking tests, slathering hand sanitizer, and walking through the halls, I seldom feel content or hopeful. So, if someone questions my current state, I say I’m not okay for the time being.

This doesn’t make me or anyone else selfish or overly-dramatic, in fact, it’s just the opposite.  We recognize the value of our relationships and realize that our friends and family genuinely want us to be happy. The first step towards contentment, before all the self-care and therapy, is admitting we’re not really cheerful, to begin with.

So yes, does my therapist-mother worry about me and my mental health? Of course, that’s what parents do, but we both recognize the value of self-introspection and emotional honesty.

We’re all not okay, but I have hope that we will eventually be.