Muscling through mental health issues is not noble, brave or courageous when it comes to your mental health.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “suck it up” before — especially if you’ve struggled with mental health. If you’ve never learned how to improve your well-being and care for your emotional struggles, you may find yourself having mental health difficulties more often than not. You’re not helping yourself when you delay taking action to care for your mental health, this only leads to greater levels of emotional suffering.
The prevalence of mental health issues
Without a doubt, our world is facing a mental health crisis of magnificent proportions.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 out of 5 adults suffered from mental health illness in 2021, varying in degree of severity. Mental health researchers state that 50% of all mental health illness starts by the age of 14 years old and 75% of all mental health illness is in place by the age of 24. A survey conducted in 2022 by Mental Health America, highlights more than half of all adults with a mental health illness do not receive treatment and over 2.5 million youths in the U.S. suffer from severe major depression. Untreated mental health illness also has major ramifications globally as well. Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity on an annual basis.
What creates emotional suffering?
Feeling emotions is part of being human, and pain is a part of life. However, without adequate emotional support, it’s easy to get lost in the overwhelm.
The primary reason that people experience suffering around mental health issues is due to a lack of clinical or therapeutic support for navigating these difficult moments and experiences in life. Emotional pain without the appropriate clinical interventions always leads to suffering. Painful moments in life, aided by adequate emotional support, leads to growth.
The ripple effect of untreated mental health issues and emotional suffering
Untreated mental health illness has a profound impact on a person’s individual life as well as ability to build rewarding relationships. Here are five significant ways in which suffering through mental health issues without adequate treatment can profoundly impact your life:
Untreated mental health issues can lead to a greater incidence of physical illness and disabilities. People with serious mental health health illnesses have an increased risk for chronic disease like cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and cancer.
Untreated mental health issues, prolonged, are correlated with increased incidences of social isolation, poverty, homelessness and incarceration. About 2 out of 5 people who are incarcerated have a history of mental illness, with women reporting twice the percentage of men in prison.
Untreated mental health issues affect financial well-being and job productivity. People experiencing mental health issues are 3.5 times more likely to experience financial problem debt than those without mental health issues.
Physiologically, untreated mental illness means that your autonomic nervous system is focused primarily on survival mode and maintaining the status quo so as to eliminate incidences of perceived stress or threat. The allocation of energy required to “cope” means that there is very little energy left for thriving in life.
Untreated mental health issues lead to greater levels of procrastination and inaction in your life. The more that you avoid doing the things it takes to take care of yourself, the more depleted you feel in the long run, both emotionally and physically.
How to stop emotional suffering
You can reduce your suffering by taking intentional steps to address your emotional pain. It’s helpful to remember that emotional suffering, with the necessary kind of clinical support, can actually provide teachable moments in your life.
Here are some steps for reducing the emotional suffering in your life.
Pay attention to repeated patterns of difficulty in your life. These unhelpful patterns showing up are reflective of some sort of choice that you’re making that is simply not working for you.
Take your suffering seriously. When you recognize that certain choices are no longer working for you, commit to dealing with these issues much like you would if you had a serious physical illness or health crisis.
Lean into the difficult feelings that come with the emotional pain. Learning how to open yourself up to the lessons behind your repeated difficult experiences requires you building the emotional stamina to be with all of your feelings, including the unpleasant ones too.
As for help / support. As humans, you’re intrinsically wired to move away from all manners of pain. Without expert guidance, it’s going to be impossible for you to go where you need to go with your feelings, on your own.
When you’re hurting, it can be easy to fall into inaction—to just “get through it”. Yet your emotions are part of what makes you human, and ignoring them or allowing yourself to get overwhelmed by them is not helpful or productive. Emotional suffering won’t solve itself.
Instead of avoiding difficult emotions, learn how to access them with less resistance and give yourself what you need, even if that means reaching out for help or doing some heavy emotional lifting. And at the end of the day, the most important thing is to feel better, and not just “get through it.” “Just getting through it” always leads to more suffering.