Finding purpose helps mental health
(Last of four parts)
For the past weeks, we responded to reader FS, whose teen daughter attempted suicide. Seeking a psychiatrist for medication and a psychologist for therapy is the first step, and as described by Ateneo Science and Engineering students who learned to manage their mental health, the support of faith, family and friends is invaluable.
FS is shocked at mental health issues described by historian Ambeth Ocampo in his column (Feb. 3, 2023). Ambeth believes that cell phones and other gadgets are pacifiers that enable kids to never experience loss or failure of any sort, contributing to anxiety and entitlement. “Before they lose, they reset the game and end up a winner.”
FS’s daughter isolates herself in her room with gadgets, likely contributing to depression. US psychologist Jean Twenge’s latest book “Generations” contains data-driven research on the strong links between “the twin rise of the smartphone and social media” and mental distress in teens. “There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.”
“Today’s teens [are] waiting longer to take on both the responsibilities and the pleasures of adulthood,” says Twenge. Parents need to let children experience a bit of frustration early on (“Risk failure,” July 24, 2015), so they can manage stress and rise again. This contributes to resilience, and in response to FS’s plea on whether college students with mental health problems can recover, the answer is a definite yes.
What enabled our students to forge on is a sense of purpose, focused not so much on the self, but on others. In high school, mental health issues afflicted JP, a physics major. But in college, she decided not to waste opportunities. “Kaya ko kahit mahirap. Kakayanin ko para sa pamilya. Know your roots. When you are given a chance, take it, do something about it, appreciate it. Find your ‘why.’ Why do you want to continue?”
To FS: Finding purpose is paramount in recovery. Individuals like your daughter often decide to end it all because they feel that living is pointless, no one cares, and whatever they do does not matter.
During the pandemic, I wrote about my student Jim (“A sense of purpose,” July 2, 2020), who has been battling depression for years. But now he wakes up every day to cook for his loved ones. Jim continues medications and still has bad days, but “I am better. When I wake up before, I feel like a zombie. Now I have no time to dwell on bad things. I plan menus, try recipes. It’s tiring, and sometimes the food does not come out right. But my family and friends love it, which is awesome.”
Ask your daughter what she wants to do in life. Be patient, because depressed people usually cannot think about the future. Help your daughter answer the following questions: What is she good at? What are her interests? What used to give her joy? How can she harness these to find purpose?
Once again, do not blame yourself. Even the best families are not spared the scourge of mental ill health. “My parents gave me a good life,” says P, an environmental management major. “I have everything I need and want. But that doesn’t account for bad decisions. I broke relationships and wrecked my self-image and self-respect. I struggled with lack of self-worth, a crippling fear of failure, and poor health-seeking behavior.”
P continues therapy to this day, and relies on friends “who would not echo my own thoughts, but actively challenge my opinions and encourage better choices. They respected and loved me enough to keep my head above water. It took a while, but now I have an honest relationship with my parents despite our differences in opinion. I perform to the best of abilities. I still struggle, but I have built strength of character and a sense of self.”
For managing mental health, get our book “Lifeline: A Layperson’s Guide to Helping People in Crisis.” For what resilient students do, get “Bouncing Back: Life and Learning in a Time of Crisis.” Both are available in Lazada or Shopee.
Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her print book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at email@example.com.
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