A Rising Epidemic Among Young People

The other day, I was at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines to serve as consulting psychotherapist to university students for their Mental Health Campus project. Everyone who came to my consulting room was going through serious depression. It’s an emotional illness to which many of our brightest students in the university have become subject to.

Just being depressed does not mean something is wrong with your IQ or intelligence. These UP students I talked to were scholars who are highly gifted intellectually. Perhaps the fact that each of them has to live with UP’s highest standard of academics and be subject to perpetual pressure in their studies is enough to depress them!

Depression is universal. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the state of being depressed … dejection, as of mind … a lowering of vitality of functional activity … an abnormal state of inactivity and unpleasant emotion.” To my knowledge, no one is exempted from this universal experience of human life, to a greater or lesser extent, including the youth.

In the Philippines, almost 50% of the total suicide cases recorded since 2010 are from the youth. The report based on a bill filed in the Philippine Senate showed that 30% of those who committed suicide are young adults aged 20 to 35 years old. The remaining 16% or more are teens aged 10 to 19 years old.

We need to protect our youth. They’re our hope of tomorrow. Happy are we who can face the weakness of depression among our young people, and diagnose its roots. That is half the battle. For once we fully understand the roots of their depression, all we have to do is help them remove those roots and get the right cure.

Let’s reason our youth way out of their depression!

As Dr. Aaron Beck, founder of Cognitive Therapy, put it: “If you could reason with depressives persistently enough – or, better yet, get them to reason that way with themselves – you may be able to free them from the stranglehold of their negative thinking – and from depression itself.”

Doing Therapy Via Skype

It used to be a traditional way. I once worked all the time in the office, with armchair and tools. But with it, the problem of the high costs of wasted time enduring more than a couple of hours travel each day to office. The cost of fuel, not factoring in medical costs of my increasing weight, blood pressure, traffic-anxiety, and fatigue, significantly reduced my joy and effectiveness.

I’m glad times have changed. With the growth of the mobile and the internet, society has progressively moved work channels from the physical to the digital. The lines between work and life are being erased in the process. Time and money are saved. The threat of burnout and mental health challenges get to be addressed. Distance is no longer a problem between people engaged in a working process.

Whenever I do Skype or phone sessions with counsellees from the Philippines, Qatar/Dubai, Australia, USA, Japan, or anywhere else around the world, I’ve come to feel that I’m more productive and refreshed working remotely than when sedentarily confined in a clinic cubicle. I’m glad I can do running or recharging while helping anyone, anywhere!

Productivity appears more in the comfort of home or natural environs of individuals engaged in life session. The domino effect is the natural fruit of seeing that the main value exists not in the structure of a fixed physical space of an office – but in the value of output made. I think I’m not alone in believing this to be so in our times.

The working world in general is more and more showing a a rising trend of decreased need for a central physical hub to do work. I’m reading US National Library of Medicine, which suggests that remote, digitally-based workers have higher performance outputs. The less office means increased productivity by up to 70%, according to Time Doctor Stats.

With technology spurring growth and saving costs, don’t be surprised if you see me championing a non-traditional office-less “psychotherapy without borders.” Via Skype or phone. Or, in coffee shops, beaches, or malls. It’s organic. Natural life flow. Time/cost-effective. In short, a more healthy option towards your search for healing and wholeness in your life.

Healthy Response To Abuse

You may ask, “How can I be responsible when I’m the one abused, hurt, or ‘sinned against’?”

One of my former patients, Eddie, was an abandoned and abused child. In his childhood years, he remembers constantly being beaten up by his father and verbally abused by his mother. When he reached high school, his parents separated and left him to the care of neighbors, totally unsupported.

In response, Eddie grew up feeling so angry, bitter, and resentful towards his parents. Sooner, he found himself in the company of criminal gangs. He became addicted to shabu and smoking and got drunk almost each day to numb the pain he’s experiencing. One day, in a police buy-bust drug operation, he was arrested and put to jail.

If you’ve been abused, hurt, or criminally victimized by someone at any stage in your life, you have no responsibility for the event itself. It’s outside your control. The issue is not about what has happened to you. However, you are personally responsible and accountable about how you choose to respond from there on. Someone overpowered and wounded you by subjecting you to abuse, whether physically, psychologically, emotionally, or financially. You regain power through your response.

In the aftermath of trauma or destructive events in your life, avoid confusing “blame” with “personal responsibility.” You are personally responsible and accountable for the following:

* what you choose to believe or decide about your self after the experience

* how the experience influences your relationships and your life today

* what attitudes and impressions you develop about other people

* how frequent that experience from the past gets replayed in your brain, distorts your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors

Your choice. Listen to your self conversation. Take opportunity to see how you choose to respond to your life experiences. Remember, a key is to do so without blame of self and others.

How To Take Care Of Your Self

Self-Care is vital. You miss or neglect it, you break down. You get ill. You experience unhappiness.

There are known effective ways or strategies to maintain self-care. I’m thinking of some specifics below where we may need to actively work on to improve and maintain our self-care.

Assess and get ready to better self-care.

Physical Self-Care:

* Eat regularly (e.g. breakfast, lunch and dinner)
* Eat healthy
* Exercise
* Get regular medical care for prevention
* Get medical care when needed
* Take time off when needed
* Get massages
* Dance, swim, walk, run, play sports, sing, or do some other physical activity that is fun
* Take time to be sexual with your spouse.
* Get enough sleep
* Wear clothes you like
* Take vacations
* Take day trips or mini-vacations
* Make time away from telephones and gadgets

Psychological Self-Care:

* Make time for self-reflection
* Have your own personal psychotherapy
* Write in a journal
* Read literature that is unrelated to work
* Do something at which you are not expert or in charge
* Decrease stress in your life
* Let others know different aspects of you
* Notice your inner experience—listen to your thoughts, judgments, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings
* Engage your intelligence in a new area, e.g. go to an art museum, history exhibit, 
sports event, auction, theater performance
* Practice receiving from others
* Be curious
* Say “no” to extra responsibilities sometimes

Emotional Self-Care:

* Spend time with others whose company you enjoy
* Stay in contact with important people in your life
* Give yourself affirmations, praise yourself
* Love yourself
* Re-read favorite books, re-view favorite movies
* Identify comforting activities, objects, people, relationships, places and seek them out
* Allow yourself to cry
* Find things that make you laugh
* Express your outrage in social action, letters and donations, marches, protests
* Play with children

Spiritual Self-Care:

* Make time for reflection
* Spend time with nature
* Find a spiritual connection or community
* Be open to inspiration
* Cherish your optimism and hope
* Be aware of nonmaterial aspects of life
* Try at times not to be in charge or the expert
* Be open to not knowing
* Identify what in meaningful to you and notice its place in your life
* Meditate
* Pray
* Sing
* Spend time with children
* Have experiences of awe
* Contribute to causes in which you believe
* Read inspirational literature (talks, music, etc.)

Work Self-Care:

* Take a break during the workday (e.g. lunch)
* Take time to chat with co-workers
* Make quiet time to complete tasks
* Identify projects or tasks that are exciting and rewarding
* Set limits with your clients and colleagues
* Balance your caseload so that no one day or part of a day is “too much”
* Arrange your work space so it is comfortable and comforting
* Get regular supervision or consultation
* Negotiate for your needs (benefits, pay raise)
* Have a peer support group
* Develop a non-trauma area of professional interest
* Strive for balance within your work-life and workday
* Strive for balance among work, family, relationships, play and rest

Mirroring The Injury

When a wounded person is too powerless or too young to help heal himself or herself, something “unconscious” often happens. Psychologists call it “mirroring the injury.” People who are abandoned abandon others. People who were lied to or verbally abused lie and verbally abuse others. The wounded, in other words, wound.

One patient, Janet, whose husband committed infidelity, was a victim of a broken home. Her father physically abused and abandoned her mother for another woman when she was in grade school. When her equally wounded husband chose her and repented from his unfaithfulness, Janet both physically abused and verbally shamed him in front of relatives, friends, and in public. It’s her pattern in the marriage even prior to her husband’s affair.

I’ve witnessed and heard countless times in my sessions wounded individuals like Janet. The wounded person, with unhealed wounds, repeats his or her own injury. Only this time, he or she becomes the harmer. The more self destructive, the more punishing, the more “bad.” In a sense, “mirroring the injury” is like war. It’s ebb and flow leave everyone around injured. Injured and injurers become one.

When a wounded person wounds back by wounding others, it’s better for him to have people around to “catch” him or her. People who can love and help him or her sort it out to heal. People who can support him or her to understand that there are more positive, healthy ways to retrieve personal power and self esteem. There are better ways.

Addiction Is Not The Problem

I feel for Baron’s parents. They see that their son’s problem is his addiction to alcohol, drugs, women, and money. After years of having him confined to three addiction rehabilitation centers, nothing still changed. Baron is still addicted to drugs, alcohol, and spending money to pay for sex. His parents are frustrated already, losing hope. They’re about to give up.

I say that there is always hope. Baron’s parents may had sent him to three rehabilitation centers and their son never responded appropriately to heal. Here is my take: in all of those rehabilitation efforts for Baron, they’ve possibly not gone down to the roots of his “real problem.” Their view was only external – counting the number of times he took his addictive “drugs of choice.”

Addiction is not the problem. It is only an external symptom, a result or manifestation, of the “real problem.” The addict’s way to happiness or numbing of his sorrow is to take “drugs of choice.” Yet he remains oblivious to the core of his problem and the varied options to address it.

So, simply laying down external bottom lines and consequences (an important part of recovery though it may be), counting and suppressing the use of alcohol or any “drugs of choice,” in an addict will lead nowhere. If treatment providers such as doctors, nurses etc in the rehabilitation centers focus on the inner life of the person addicted and treat the “real problem,” there’s a higher chance of true rehabilitation and new life for a recovering addict.