Commentary By: Gabrielle Mills, Follow South Jersey Intern
Physical and mental health go hand in hand. Achieving one without the other is unsustainable and nearly impossible. As more health professionals and citizens alike recognize the strain subpar mental health puts on the body, the more steps they’re taking to rectify it.
While mental health has always been an issue, current generations are acutely aware of its impact. While some argue Millennial and Gen Z concern for mental health is overblown, these two generations are unfortunately too familiar with the fatal consequences of untreated mental illness. According to the CDC, “the suicide rate among persons aged 10–24…increased 56% between 2007 and 2017.”
Meet two New Jerseyans who are striving to improve mental health awareness: Rowan College of South Jersey’s administrative specialist of Student Life Isabelle Nicholas and Dr. Xiaolu Jiang of South Jersey Mental Health.
Nicholas is the host of mental health podcast Shout Our Struggle. “I filmed my first episode in August of 2021 and I found it to be healing for myself,” says Nicholas. “I then proceeded to bring on guests with lived experience, and found it was healing for them to share their stories as well.”
The show serves as a place for people, especially college students to express their difficulties regarding mental health in hopes to decrease the stigma associated with the topic.
“Shout Our Struggle was born from my lived experience with mental health,” Nicholas states. “I am diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depressive disorder, and experienced suicidal ideation at 18 years old.”
Nicholas employs a three pronged approach on her podcast.
“First, I wanted to provide a platform for those with lived experiences to share their stories, in order to stop the mental health stigma,” she says. “Second, there needed to be a place for those who were not yet ready to share their story or start their healing journey to find role models who have ‘made the leap’ of active healing.Third, I wanted a resource for community members to learn how to support and respond to those in their lives experiencing mental health challenges from the mouths of those who have them.”
While it seems as though mood disorders like anxiety, depression and PMDD have skyrocketed, often just being able to put a name to conditions that people have been living with for decades aids in diagnosis and treatment.
Through social media, for better or worse people have been more exposed to mental health crises. Dr. Xialou Jiang, a licensed psychologist, speaks on how social media impacts mental health.
“In my professional experience, having a mental health diagnosis can be extremely stigmatizing,” states Jiang, “and in that sense, social media has been incredibly helpful in normalizing and validating for many. At the same time, social media also contributes to misinformation about mental health.”
Mental health in America is often perceived as an individual failure, rather than a symptom of larger issues like food insecurity, structural racism and the like. When mental health issues are viewed in this individualistic way it puts the onus on those suffering from mental instability rather than their socioeconomic status and other causes at large. A person can strive for a healthy mental and physical state but if basic needs aren’t being met, mental health deteriorates.
Jiang speaks on what NJ officials could be doing to ease the burden of care.
“All the mental health professionals and practices I know are overly booked and many are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of individuals who need to be seen,” Jiang says. “That said, I think mental health professionals, myself included, need to be better about advocating for our field, for better parity, funding, and investment in community based organizations.”
Jiang also describes the shift in mental health care in recent decades.
“I think there has definitely been a shift towards mental wellness , as opposed to focusing on pathology and mental illness,” Jiang states. “I think people are recognizing the importance of preventative measures, just like eating healthier foods can decrease the likelihood of long term medical conditions, practicing mindfulness and being aware of our feelings and thoughts can decrease the likelihood of anxiety or depression, improve our relationships, and increase overall satisfaction in our lives.”
De-stigmatizing mental health is the work of both professionals and citizens. Gen Z and Millennials are practicing mindfulness and calling on mental health professionals, and the government to prioritize the health of its citizens, some like Isabelle Nicholas and Dr. Jiang are leading the charge in their communities.
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