Most of the world these days is fixated on not falling sick. The new standard of wellness seems to be whether you’ve got the coronavirus or not; If you don’t, then you shouldn’t have anything to complain about. For teenagers, the assumption is often similar: If they have a roof over your head and some WiFi to keep entertained, that’s really all that’s needed to tide them through these times.
Social worker Asher Low disagrees. As co-founder of Limitless, a non-profit that helps youths with mental health issues, he says that since the circuit breaker began, he’s seen an ‘uptick’ in both suicide ideation and attempts amongst the teens that he treats.
“What we’re going through is unprecedented, and most of us aren’t used to being so isolated,” he says. “The truth is that this isolation, and even being stuck in the same environment, can cause those feelings of lethargy.”
And that’s not to mention teens who are part of abusive households, who now find themselves trapped around the clock in a stifling environment, unable to head out to see their friends or seek solace in activities that might have helped them cope.
For Low, he’s turned Limitless’ Instagram page into something of a safe space for youths struggling with mental health issues: Between encouraging messages and educational posts on mental wellness, the team hosts different IGTV streams each day to keep teens occupied — think soothing calligraphy tutorials, guitar-for-dummies, and low-impact workouts for times when it’s difficult to even get out of bed.
But the team still faces several challenges. Despite the increased knowledge about mental health issues in recent years, Low says that there’s still a ways to go, especially in the older generation.
“There are still many youths who experience invalidation from their parents, teachers, older family members — and these youths make up a large proportion of our clients,” says Low.
Many of these parents, he says, see mental health issues not as illnesses but as signs of weakness, and expect their children to simply ‘power through it’.
With Limitless, Low offers therapy and casework — where their counsellors work with their clients’ schools, religious institutions and other social service agencies to ensure that their needs are met holistically. In this case, it can mean anything from having case conferences with child protective services to walking their clients through getting a Personal Protection Order.
Like many social workers, Low says that burnout is a very real and very serious issue. “Our caseworkers do invest a lot of time and effort in their work with clients, and sometimes multiple crises can happen with multiple clients at the same time,” he says. “But I believe I can speak for the whole team when I say that it’s worth it to see young people overcoming their circumstances and living well.”
Low’s stake in wanting to see his clients heal and thrive is personal. Having developed body dysmorphic disorder as a teenager, Low struggled with depression amidst a tumultuous school life. He fell in with a gang. The fights and truancy caused his grades to plummet in something of a snowball effect — but concerned friends reached out to him and helped him find his feet through religion.
It’s what made him want to pursue a degree in Social Work and eventually create Limitless in 2016. Initially, Low founded the organisation to help troubled youths — especially those who’d fallen in with bad company — but soon he found out that there was a more endemic problem.
“During our first two to three months of casework, almost all our cases were mental health related,” he says. “Either the client already had a diagnosed issue, or their issues were clearly linked to symptoms of a mental health condition.”
Today, Low is optimistic that the newfound awareness about mental health issues will help more people see it as ‘a key part of their overall wellness’. But really, he’s just as content if he knows that just one of the teens under his wing manages to live a good life — but with the work that Limitless is doing, he certainly hasn’t just stopped at one.