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Are mental health issues on the rise? The role of social connection

A recent tragedy in our community has left many people wondering, are there more people struggling with mental health issues or are we just hearing more about it?

It certainly feels like there is an epidemic of mental health issues in our city, but I am not sure if this is necessarily true across all ages and populations.

I think we have made significant strides in reducing stigma and increasing acceptance of mental health challenges, which is why we hear a lot more about it. People are finally starting to treat mental health like physical health. There are also a lot more things “medicalized” these days than in previous decades. Research would say there are slight increases in mental health issues since the 1990's, but this is a difficult problem to measure as it relies on self-reporting feelings.

I personally feel we are seeing more issues of mental health concerns arise among teens and young adults, specifically. Numerous studies have shown increased distress among this population. Most people relate this to social media and the impacts of technology on our society.

I recently heard on a podcast that we touch our phones 2600 times per day, we are on call 24/7, have poor boundaries from school and work and we have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook.

We are living in a culture of disconnection, for people of all ages. Disconnection between partners, between children and their parents, among neighbors and coworkers.

Adults and children are spending much less time face to face with their peers, they are also spending less time sleeping and less time building and nurturing social connections. This certainly does not lead to improved mental health. Social isolation is a risk factor that needs to be taken seriously, it is a huge predictor of physical health, life expectancy and resilience. Positive social connections are relationships that carry no judgement and provide a place where we can be brutally honest.

Many people tell me they don't have time for building social connections. Often, this isn't the true barrier; it's not making it a priority. 

Having healthy and meaningful connections require time and energy as well as opening up and sharing what you are facing in your life (aka being vulnerable).

If you want to feel better mentally, reconnect with old friends or put yourself in places where you can make new friends.  Be creative and make it happen.

My challenge to you this week is to look at yourself in a social content, can you do a better job at connecting with those around you?

~  Laura

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