BY SEAN MINOGUE
The arduous decade between moving out and moving up in life can feature the onset or intensification of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addiction, as well as many other unwanted behaviours or patterns of thought. Millennials are caught between pressures to get ahead and live well – but sometimes, these goals conflict.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of us will experience mental illness. In fatalities among those aged 15-24, suicide is the cause of death in one-quarter of those cases. Combine this data with the billions spent in mental health care each year, and the need for lasting therapeutic coping strategies seems increasingly urgent.
Organizations like Toronto Psychotherapy Group, whose members provide professional help for a wide array of issues experienced by patients of all ages, are seeing a growing interest in talk therapy from millennials who are concerned about aspects of their mental health or have questions about other issues such as sexual orientation or gender identity. This trend could be linked to three main factors: a rethinking of pharmaceuticals as a stand-alone solution; the destigmatization of discussions about mental illness; and the desire for personal growth that can be achieved through psychotherapy.
QUESTIONING PILLS-ONLY POLICIES
Modern prescription medicine is a powerful and often effective tool for coping with complex issues related to brain chemistry or unwanted behaviours. For those who truly need it, the right medication can help to re-establish adequate functioning.
But while anti-depressants are among the most-dispensed drugs in Canada, medication alone may not fully address the subtleties or tangled nature of issues experienced by millennials. To complicate matters, pharmaceuticals can be the wrong solution entirely for some patients. In a 2012 interview with CTV, the director of Sunnybrook Hospital’s Clinic for OCD and Related Disorders, Dr. Peggy Richter, said that people experiencing anxiety often get inappropriate drug prescriptions through misdiagnosis or lack of understanding on the part of their family doctor.
In ADHD Nation, a new book on the phenomenon of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the United States, Alan Schwarz expands on this problem, arguing that pharmaceutical companies have contributed to doctors’ over-diagnosing normal behaviours. In overlooking non-medicated options like professional psychotherapy as a complement to, or replacement for, prescription drugs, millennials could be missing out on solutions that go deeper than the effects of a pill.
DESTIGMATIZING MENTAL HEALTH
The reach and depth of engagement in Bell Media’s Let’s Talk campaign is hard to ignore. In the past, open discussions about mental illness have been tainted by the stigma that there’s something wrong with people who suffer from anxiety, depression or any number of conditions.
Mainstreaming this conversation helps to openly challenge misinformation and stereotypes of what’s “normal.” Without the weight of disapproval attached to admissions of experiencing depression or panic attacks, people of any age can feel more empowered to take advantage of the professional care that’s available to them and make the first step towards getting better.
This kind of openness is crucial during the difficult process of establishing or discovering an identity as an independent adult. With Global News’ 2015 publication of a poll on mental health, Ipsos’ president John Wright said, “The young people are the ones who are, in fact, feeling it the most at the moment and you pretty well hope that they’re talking more about it because within their own generation of growing up, it’s become part of the dialogue.”
ADVANTAGES OF TALK THERAPY
Professional psychotherapy is structured to meet each patient’s unique goals, which may include breaking bad habits, reducing suffering, improving relationships, building a sense of empowerment or discovering coping strategies to better meet daily challenges. Talking things out in an open and fully confidential setting can provide healing by facilitating significant emotional insights that might only be gained through one-on-one communication with a trained therapist.
While friends are essential for support, psychotherapy offers something more. A good therapist can help you understand yourself and your life differently by exploring what it is about certain situations, thoughts or ways of being that are driven by something you may not have been able to see about yourself. A trained therapist has the toolkit and focus to help you make meaningful and sustained progress.
Those with expertise in psychodynamic psychotherapy, such as the members of Toronto Psychotherapy Group (located across the GTA), provide a variety of well-established approaches designed to meet the needs of the individual. This type of therapy identifies deeper causes of psychological symptoms that may be affecting you, and helps you shift maladaptive patterns in your particular emotional experience, thinking and relating. If need be, these can be coupled with a doctor’s or psychiatrist’s recommended treatment, which may include prescription medication. Studies have shown that medication in combination with talk therapy is often more effective than medication alone.
Statistics Canada data for 2014 supports the reality of those who encounter quarter-life crises, with nearly one in four adults aged 20 to 34 years old reporting “quite a lot” of stress in their lives. As this increases to almost 30 per cent in 35 to 44-year-olds, early action is the best way to address mental health issues and make lasting positive change.