The Biggest Piece of the Pie: Identifying Mental Health Issues and Seeking Success

u thrive

This is a guest article from Dan Lerner, co-teacher of NYU’s most popular class “The Science of Happiness” and author of the new book U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life), a fun, comprehensive guide to surviving and thriving in college and beyond.


Knowing how to bounce back and then bounce higher—the ability to shrug off adversity and succeed in the face of tremendous challenge—these are the characteristics of resilience.

Resilience can come from within, but it can also come from the people around us. It can also come in the form of therapy from a mental health professional. Going through therapy is one of the most resilient acts we can engage in. While many believe that mental health issues are uncommon, 50 percent of people will experience challenges to their mental health in their lifetime. If it’s not you, it is certainly many of the people you know.

The peak age for mental illness? Eighteen to 25. That growth stretch from childhood to adulthood, freedom, pressure, adversity, change – it lends to mental health challenges. What is alarming is that we aren’t told how to cope with mental illness or provided the tools to overcome it, especially at those ages.

People are designed to bounce back from hard times. It is biological to survive, adapt and thrive, but emotional overload leaves you feeling like you are crazy sometimes. A therapist can help you find your way back again.


Don’t Fool Yourself. Know When to Get Help.

Being resilient may often times trick us into thinking we will be okay, when we aren’t. Everyone has their ups-and-downs. It is a part of life that we will ALL experience. But how do you know when you do need professional help? Determining that isn’t always the easy.

The two most common diagnoses of mental illness are depression and anxiety. A classic symptom of depression is that you stop finding pleasure in the things you enjoy. If you are no longer having fun doing something you’ve always loved, it may be a sign that you are “having the blues.”

Can’t find it within yourself to get out of the house or if you can’t concentrate enough to complete your work, you may be suffering from anxiety. If either of these things happen for more than two weeks it is time to seek help. Those are warning sign.

It’s okay to go through bad or sad times, but prolonged misery isn’t okay. If you find yourself separating from your friends and family – the people that can help you bounce back – this is a strong indication that it is time for outside support.

More importantly, if negative feelings persist or you start to think about harming yourself, it’s time to go to the emergency room. Seriously considering self-harm is the mental health equivalent of throwing up blood. You wouldn’t hesitate to go to the ER if you were throwing up blood. If you get to this point there is no shame in seeking help.


U Thrive

U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life) is a new book by Dan Lerner and Alan Schlechter, professors at NYU who teach the popular class “The Science of Happiness.” In this book, you’ll discover everything they teach about how to make the most of your college experience and use it as a real opportunity for growth and self improvement.


You Can Make Change Happen

Your desire to create change makes all the difference. A study at Brigham Young looked at hundreds of studies to determine what factors make therapy successful. They discovered the most important variable is us! Up to 40 percent of your potential to succeed in therapy is totally dependent on your determination and belief that you will create change and succeed.

The steps to change include:

  • Precontemplation – prior to thinking about the change you want to make
  • Contemplation – you intend to make a change in the near future
  • Preparation – you are going to take action in the immediate future
  • Action – you make the modifications you’ve been desiring to make
  • Maintenance – you work to prevent slipping back into your old bad habit
  • Termination – you have zero temptation to return to your old habit

The process of change isn’t linear. It most certainly will go back and forth between stages before reaching termination. That is totally natural. Think about how long you’ve been creating this habit you wish to change. It may take even longer to break it and a lifetime to reach termination. Looking at a relapse as a setback and not a failure should be encouraging though.

If you go to a therapist, but are really in the precontemplation stage, you should start there. Your desire to change is essential to the process. It’s not enough for someone else to want it for you. Your relationship with your therapist is 30 percent of the solution. Another 15 percent of success can be attributed to the therapist skill level.

Finally, if you truly believe and have the confidence that you will get better that is the last 15 percent. All factors leave us with a nice pie-chart view that helps us see how each part contributes to our mental health improvement. Remember YOU are 40 percent of success. The biggest piece of the pie!


About the Author

dan lerner

From the Dan Lerner and Alan Schlechter, co-teachers of NYU’s most popular elective class, “Science of Happiness,” comes the new book, U Thrive, a fun, comprehensive guide to surviving and thriving in college and beyond. Daniel Lerner is a speaker, teacher, strengths-based performance coach, and an expert in positive and performance psychologies. In the classroom and in his talks, Lerner integrates storytelling, humor, and science, helping students and professionals apply his teachings into their lives with immediate benefit.


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