Better Mental Health

How to improve mental health using ideas from the book

First, let's dig deeper into the data, deeper than we went in chapter 7 of the book (the chapter titled "Anxiety and Depression"). Jon is curating two open-source literature reviews on two claims that we made in the book, but for which there was not full agreement among researchers at the time. One Google doc is on the basic stats on teen mental health (described below); the other Google doc is on whether social media is a contributor to the rise (begin at our page on Better Social Media).

1) Is there a mental health crisis among American and British teenagers? In chapter 7 we asserted that there is, and we showed graphs of rising depression and suicide rates for American teens. But some skeptics claimed that self-report measures (of depression and anxiety) are unreliable, and that the suicide statistics are more complicated than it seems from our Figure 7.2. Please see this Google Doc, where Jon has laid out the various kinds of evidence, along with critiques from skeptics. If you are a researcher, please request access to the doc and add your comments.

     Hardly anyone challenged the claim in the Google doc after we posted it in Feb. 2019. Now, in 2020, there seems to be wide agreement that the rise is real; there has indeed been a large increase in rates of anxiety, depression, and self harm among Gen Z girls in the USA and in the UK. (The Google doc also includes evidence of all three trends for Canadian girls, and evidence of rising anxiety and depression in adolescent girls in Australia and New Zealand.)  There is also a large increase in the suicide rate for teen girls in the USA (up 77% for older teen girls; up 151% for younger teens, when you compare 2017 to the average of 2000-2009). There is a smaller increase in the suicide rate for teen girls in the UK (up "only" 30%) 

     For boys, there is evidence of increases in depression and anxiety as well, although the overall rates are lower and the increases are smaller and less consistent across studies, compared to girls. There is little evidence of an increase in deliberate self-harm (such as non-lethal cutting) for boys in the USA or UK. The suicide rate for teen boys in the USA is up substantially, but it is not out of line with the increasing rates for older men.  The suicide rate for teen boys in the UK is not rising (although for older men, it is falling).

     In other words: There are large, consistent, and alarming trends for girls in the USA and the UK (as well as in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). The trends are smaller and less consistent for boys, but they too are doing worse today than before 2010. 

 

2) Is there evidence that social media contributes to anxiety and depression?

[Click Here to Visit Our Page on Better Social Media]

3) Here are some of the resources we mentioned in the book, augmented by resources we found after publication.

A) Books to help you learn how to do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic, and Worry. By Seth Gillihan.

  2. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns

  3. The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You by Robert Leahy

  4. Get Out of Your Mind and in to Your Life by Steven Hayes

  5. Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn

B) Websites and apps to help you learn how to do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  1. www.findcbt.org (find a therapist via the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies)

  2. www.academyofct.org   (find a therapist via the Academy of Cognitive Therapy)

  3. The MindTrails program at the University of Virginia (a free training program in "cognitive bias modification)

  4. If you want to get expert guidance on which mental health apps are based on empirical research, visit PsyberGuide.org. The blog has a lot of info on how social media affects mental health.

C) Advice from Marcus Aurelius, who identified the Three Great Untruths and offered advice to counteract them. Seriously. It's CBT from 170 CE. Which untruth is captured by each of these 3 quotations?

  • Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it—turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself—so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal. 

  • Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside. ​

  • To feel affection for people even when they make mistakes is uniquely human. You can do it, if you simply recognize: that they’re human too, that they act out of ignorance, against their will, and that you’ll both be dead before long. 

In fact, just reading Marcus Aurelius is helpful in reducing anxiety. Jon recommends the Gregory Hays translation.

D) Additional ideas and resources for improving mental health

  • Get more exercise! We should have mentioned this in the book. Social media and overprotection are bad for mental health in many ways, one of which is that they both lead kids and teens to be less physically active, and regular exercise reduces rates of depression (see Spark, by John Ratey; more refs to come)

  • Read Jon's first book, The Happiness Hypothesis, and then see this list of ideas Jon offered for using positive psychology to become happier.

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