#27 - Healing The Mental Damage Of Modern Society
Updated: Aug 29
“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” - Romans 3:23-24
It is no secret that there is a mental health crisis in the western world. In the United States it has contributed to drug abuse and violence, both to others and oneself. In fact, the second leading cause of death for youth 10-19 is suicide. It is always a tragedy when anyone loses hope in the future of life and even more so when it happens before one has a chance to discover one’s potential. The three demographics who experience the predominant mental health issues that can lead to suicide are the LGBT community, hispanics, and non-hispanic whites.
As someone who struggled with this, I know some of the thoughts that can lead to considering murdering oneself. This permanent solution can seem appealing to temporary problems such as a lack of upward mobility, a loss of a loved one, a rejection of the binds of society, or an injury which seems to be imposing, or other rationalizations. A loving family that would be heartbroken and may never recover, and counseling with a wise and compassionate third party were the primary social support networks that kept me from suicide.
“The most important thing for a human being is not what is between his or her ears; it is what is in his or her heart. If the spirit is strong, one can accomplish anything.” - Tempu Nakamura
I was older when I had my more severe bouts of depression. They began in earnest in my college years, and connected primarily to anxiety over balancing work, school, and relationships - typically when the relationships were nearing their end. This is to be expected. Half of all mental illness reveals itself by age 14, and three-quarters show symptoms by age 24. The stigma that is associated with various mental health conditions likely contributes to half of all people diagnosed with a condition avoiding treatment, especially with the cultural expectation that males toughen up, suffer in silence, and avoid burdening others; males make up 80% of the suicides.
As children age, the qualities that parents observe in them remain mostly the same in their young years. Resilience, persistence, curiosity, and self control remain present in the vast majority of children. Interestingly, both positivity and affection vanish at age 5. That is a young age to lose such qualities, but it makes the fact that a third of children age 12 to 17 experienced extreme sadness or hopelessness in 2019 unsurprising. In this competitive world, how can we help but to see others and compare?
It is tragic and dangerous to compare ourselves with others. Without exception, they had a different upbringing and different circumstances that they grew up in. They may have practiced or been taught something longer than we have. As such they will obviously have different abilities. Berkeley noticed that five ways that teens could help rise above depressive tendencies. These include getting physically active, focusing on self-compassion, avoiding comparison with others, focusing on personal strengths, and helping others in one’s community. These actions are about finding the good within ourselves and presenting it to the community we are in.
“Work yourself hard, but not as if you were being made a victim, and not with any desire for sympathy or admiration. Desire one thing alone: that your actions or inactions alike should be worthy of a reasoning citizen.” - Aurelius, Meditations 9:12
In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) the black sheep of the family returns after a long absence. The other child has been working hard supporting the family, and it is the formerly absent son who receives a bountiful feast and celebration. Progress and improvement is worthy of celebration even more so than continued static effort, no matter how great. Always in life we are either growing and changing and improving, or stagnating and dying in entropy. The person who came from a difficult position (20% of those who are homeless are mentally ill, and 70% of those in JV also have a mental health condition) and rise above it to better themselves need the encouragement which would encourage that behavior even more so than the one who makes it a habit to continually put in the effort. Otherwise the black sheep may slip back into old habits.
In our modern capitalist western society, the underlying principle is that you get that which you put into the world. This is true to a large degree, but then when circumstances cause changes in life that are not expected (for youth this is typically from the adults in their life), then that attitude internalizes shame which helps no one and actually can cause harm. In life, there are some universal truths. One is that everything is impermanent, from the sun to the seasons. Another is that life is full of struggle, and in fact that difficulty leads to change and growth when overcome. A third is that we are all so interconnected that we may as well think of ourselves as one with the world and people around us. If we can recognize these truths and approach the present moment with the contentment of santosha, we can learn to love the present moment for the gift that it is.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” - Ephesians 2:8-9
According to Wayland Hoyt in the Homiletic Review, "the primary and root meaning - is a missing the mark," and as no one is perfect, we all miss our mark on occasion. Sometimes we can recognize that in others, but for many it is hard to recognize that in ourselves. There is room for forgiveness in some faiths and philosophies, and it is through that that we have the opportunity for redemption. It is more important to find the ways to serve others around us with kindness, and from that action, we can find meaning in community. Just because someone does not quite match up to another does not mean it is failure. If one tries one’s best, one is successful, as I always tell my students. You are enough.