by Jeremy Glauser, eLuma Founder and CEO
Over the years, it has been remarkable to see more and more people talking about the importance of mental health. There is still work to do as we continue towards a collective goal of “ending the stigma.” This is something that is very important to me personally, as I have seen the effects of mental health struggles in my life.
When I was 14 years old and in my freshman year of high school, I started having severe anxiety attacks – my chest would tighten, I would start to sweat profusely, and these anxious feelings would cloud my brain. I felt trapped. I needed to escape. As I would get up and leave the room to try to calm myself down, I felt embarrassed and ashamed and guilty. What was wrong with me? Why did this happen to me, when nobody else in my peer group seemed to be going through this? I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I definitely didn’t know that there were options for professional support out there.
Now, fast forward a few years. My mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. During this time of extreme trauma in my life, I again experienced these severe symptoms of anxiety, even though I had a great support system around me. As my feelings of anxiety and depression lingered, I thought again that there was something wrong with me. That I was the only one who felt these feelings. That I needed to figure out a way on my own to cope.
As I got older and started opening up to those around me, I remember very vividly one day when, in a discussion with one of my friends, I told him that I sometimes would experience these weird anxiety attacks where I start to sweat, where I feel locked, where I feel overwhelmed. And you know what happened next? He told me, “I experience those exact same things.” It was at that point that I realized that I wasn’t alone.
For many people, old and young alike, they may have experienced similar situations to mine and not known what to do, or they thought this was an isolated incident happening specifically to them and them alone. It took me years to fully realize that I actually wasn’t alone, and for me that was a huge turning point. I started to figure out that what I was experiencing was real, but it wasn’t life and death. I wasn’t trapped anymore, and instead, I found a key to the door outside of my mind. And that was liberating.
Years ago when I was serving with a youth group, one of our youth decided to take his own life. That was really hard on me, and something that I am impacted by to this day. It really made me realize that these young people need professional support, and we as adults, educators, and caregivers need to make sure that we’re helping them identify the early signs of mental struggles – and then do something about it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Additionally, a recent NPR article sites data from the Children’s Hospital Association, stating that there were more than 47,000 mental health visits to emergency departments at 38 children’s hospitals around the country in the first three quarters of 2021 – nearly 40% higher than the same period in 2020.
Caring for our youth and their mental health is no longer simply an urgent priority, but one that is critical. As I’ve pondered and reflected on ways that I can be a better advocate and share with other adults who may be wondering what immediate things they can do to help, a few things come to mind.
Practicing Empathy and Gentle Support
I think that one of the main things that we can do is to be present and aware of their situation. I think back to my struggles with anxiety as a young teen. If someone had taken the time to notice that I was not in a good mindset, or if they’d offered me a hug, would it have encouraged me to get help sooner? We can’t just assume we know what these kids are going through unless we take the time to truly understand and listen to their struggles. Sometimes, what they need is someone to listen to them and to introduce them to a professional who can actually teach them coping skills.
Our teenagers and adolescents today have so many struggles they are faced with daily: from normal feelings of trying to fit in, to the ongoing pandemic, and the stresses of being a student. Oftentimes we just need to practice empathy, give them a break, some space to chill out, and not brush off their struggles. As an observer, someone else’s struggles may seem miniscule, but to them, it’s everything.
Ending the Stigma Around Mental Health
I believe that mental health is going through the same evolution that physical health has gone through over the centuries. We need to accept that and we must take care of ourselves as a society, and by doing so, we can do our part in putting an end to the stigmas that are so often associated with mental health. It’s extremely important to address mental health issues early in young people, so they are able to grow up equipped with the tools and skills that they need to cope and be really competent adults, especially in a society that’s becoming increasingly more global and complex.
eLuma at its core is meant to help kids and adolescents fulfill their human potential. When COVID hit, it revealed a level of uncertainty that we hadn’t known as a school system in this country. The need for mental health has become even more important, and it’s something that people are finally starting to talk about and address. I’m grateful to see that legislation is passing funding so that we can really attend to the needs of these kids. We’re building systems, we’re building processes, and we’re building solutions so that these kids can develop the critical mental health skills they need going into the future.
Acknowledge Our Own Mental Health Needs
As adults, teachers, administrators, and mentors, we talk a lot about the kids and making sure that they’re taken care of. I’m here to tell you that your mental health matters too. Think about when you’re on an airplane, and they’re explaining to you what to do in the event of an emergency. It’s always, “Put your own oxygen mask on first before you help the person next to you.” This same principle can be applied to our day-to-day life. Set up rituals and routines that are good for your mind, for your body, for your physical health, because that all feeds into your mental health.
Recently, our company implemented “Mental Health Days” that we can use throughout the year to take care of ourselves. Just last month, I took a mental health day to spend some time skiing with my family, to separate myself from the pressures of work, and to remind myself of the joys that can come from disconnecting and recharging my personal battery.
Mental health is something that we all have to attend to. And just like our physical health, it’s something that requires attention and deliberate maintenance.
If you’re a student struggling with any kind of mental health disorder or element, you’re not alone. There are other people who are struggling with that exact same thing. Now, that doesn’t diminish what you’re going through, but I hope this gives you the energy to find the strength to cope and to push through. There are people who love you, who care for you, and who are willing to help. I invite you to let them in. Together, you will be able to continue making your difference in the world.