Updated: May 25, 2020
Mental health can be a sensitive subject. Social pressures, disruptive events, uncertainty, new context, a gap between expectations and reality, boredom in a routine, 'Fear Of Missing Out', dilemma between a need for freedom and social obligations, a constant need for control… Many reasons can trigger an identity crisis, the feeling of being lost and do not fit in the societal box. Travelling, experiencing another culture and new worldviews is one of those factors.
What does mean 'Identity crisis' ?
Your identity defines who you are. It defines your personal characteristics, your true self making you as a unique human being. When this identity suffers and is challenged, you can experience an “identity crisis”. Identity crisis could be defined as a state of mind where the identity is challenged by a big change in life, a turning point with a high level of uncertainty. The person is questioning who she really is and what is the true meaning of their life. She can identify herself as internally disoriented and/or lost or a lack of motivation.
Why this research?
Coming back in France from a gap year in the UK (2013), I went through a period of transition in my life where I felt disoriented, lost. At first I didn’t understand the situation. Then, I started investigating and realised the impacts travelling can have on ourselves. I discovered that you can have the "expat syndrome", "the post travel blues" and even be transformed by travel. The research done by Yvette Reisinger "Transformational tourism. Tourism perspectives" (2013) proves this phenomenom.
Having an experience abroad opened my mind to new perspectives and ways to approach life, changing my worldview. In September 2019, I met in Melbourne a group of young entrepreneurs tackling similar subjects. Our common subject was related to mental suffering linked to the feeling of disconnection with others and lack of meaning in life. We noticed that at some point in the life cycle, some people suffer and can reach a stage of identity crisis. From those observations blossomed the following problem: How to help people suffering from identity crisis in life?
At the start of this research, we made the following assumption: we believed that people suffering from an identity crisis, go or went through a period of transition in their lives, when facing an important life challenge.
Scope / Methodology
In September 2019, 9 people living in Melbourne, with an international background, (between 27 and 40 years old) have been interviewed and recorded (45min -1h). They all were aware of the notion of 'identity crisis' or felt lost at least once in their lives. Semi-conducted interviews has been processed in face to face.
The following questions have been asked :
- What made you aware that you were lost or needed help ?
- What cause could have triggered this situation ? Do you have any important event or situation/context that strongly affected or affect you ?
- When you became aware that you were lost, what solutions pop up into your head first ?
- Which strategy did you choose to help this situation ?
- What motivated you to ask for help?
- What do you think are the barriers for people who do not ask for professional help sooner?
- What kind of non-medicated solution can be a help?
- If you mind sharing, where do you spend your money to help the process ?
- What are the challenges for you for keeping yourself on the good path?
- What did you learn from going from that process ?
- Can you imagine something great that could help people to go through their life crises, make sense of the situation or avoid it ?
- Do you know if your Employer offers a program, which supports this problem? If yes, could you describe it?
The volunteers were aware of their mental distress, identified it as identity crisis / feeling lost / feeling stuck/ frustrated / confused.
What are the results ?
The main reasons behind this mental state were :
New life context moving from one place to another / Out of their comfort zone
Gap between expectations and reality
Dilemma between need for freedom and social obligations. Need for control
Unhappiness or boredom in their routine
Fear Of Missing Out
3 main situations stood up. We use storytelling describing who they are.
SOCIAL PRESSURE / LIFE EXPECTATIONS : "I have everything my parents told me to get : perfect job, amazing house, wonderful wife and even a dog... and I still feel unhappy … Why ? what’s wrong with me ?"
BOREDOM / ROUTINE : "I hate my job. Too many challenges. Is it really what I want in life ? I work 24/7 is it worth it? What is the meaning of this ?"
UNCERTAINTY / NEW CONTEXT : "I just moved in this new city. I am lost, I feel stuck, lonely and un-understood. I don’t know what to do with my life and how to create meaningful connections. "
67% of the interviewees knew someone who went through an identity crisis
82% of the interviewee have once felt lost in life
The N°1 trigger of the crisis was emotional difficulties : 52% stress, anxiety
We identified 3 different scenario and processes. What is interesting is a general shame and fear around seeking for professional help : stigma, fear of judgement, taboo.
Personna 1 :
"Lea faces uncertainty. She feels stuck in life and frustrated as she tried to find solutions by herself for months to fix the situation and it didn’t work. She is feeling like a failure, scared and is ashamed to ask for professional help. She doesn’t want to be labelled by society and judged. She doesn't want to be disvaluated in her workplace."
Personna 2 :
"Théo has finaly accepted the fact he feels stuck and lost. He has been through the process of searching for solutions by himself but didn’t find the good one so he finaly asked for help. With some support, he is trying to create is own healthy life balance. He faces his fears, trying new things and by creating meaningful connexions."
Personna 3 :
"Lucas is fully self-aware. He knows he needs support but doesn’t know where to ask without feeling judged and doesn’t know who to trust. Social pressure and stigmas doesn’t help. He constantly fight with family and friends who don’t seem to understand what he is living."
Regarding the people who suffered from a disorienting dilemma the top 3 solutions they adopted where :
55% activities, hobbies
53% talking to friends
For the ones who never suffered from a disorienting dilemma, they would advised to a friend :
75% talking to friends
37% activities, hobbies (travel, reading)
=> What is interesting from this experiment is that therapy and talking to friends were the first beneficial solutions. However the challenge is to break the barriers around seeking for professional help. A need for TRUST and NO JUDGEMENT. Also, the access to resources regarding professional help: cost, waiting list, information have been highlighted.
As we asked the participants the solutions they tried to solve the situation, we categorised them in two cases : the ones that worked and the one that didn’t.
Solutions that worked :
Learn about others success stories
Physical exercise (endorphine)
Going into nature
Healthy nutrition and lifestyle
App : podcasts, music, meditation
Speak to someone they trust, a safe place where they could be free to vulnerable : friend, Professional help
Participating to social events
Set clear goals
Meditation, mindfullness, yoga
Take actions and set clear goals
Solutions that didn’t work
Travel to escape
Work as an excuse
Inaction / comfort zone
Self-help : try to find solutions by themselves
Addiction, distractions such as alcohol, drug, TV, sport, work
Put all the hope in one solution such as physical exercise
What is also interesting to take out from those life stories and being potential ideas for businesses or organisations are the following :
COMMUNITY I ACTIVITIES
- The need for support and meaningful social connections. Need for feeling of belonging. Need for active listening, compassion and a place free of judgements. Need for a space where people can find inspiration from people who experienced a similar situation and share with them.
- The need to be active. The need to immerse into nature and positive mindset. Digital detox, playfull times to reconnect with human roots.
EDUCATION I PREVENTION
- A school program including a course teaching meditation, mindfulness, how to be human, based on storytelling and the story of humanity.
- In schools, give access to someone neutral, external from the school to talk to, free of the image of doctor (mentorship system) to help processing emotions and life challenges. The purpose would be to normalise speaking to someone from a yound age. (ex: Finland)
WORK ENVIRONMENT I PREVENTION I HEALTH SYSTEM
- Emotional intelligence courses and leadership.
- A free and quick access to mental health support. The need to change the image linked to mental health professionals. It has been suggested to place them at the same level as a doctor. The idea is to remove the stigma around mental health practitionners.
- Fast track the mental health system in work context without having to ask the manager and be exposed. Have a mental health follow up anticipating breakdowns and supporting a work / life balance.
- Have a day off from work to volunteer or go on a digital detox program , go into nature, reconnect with the roots.
- Mentoring, support people to use wisely their time free of work (holiday) so they don’t have to wait for the next holiday or go onto drugs (alcool) to cope with life challenges.
- Flexibility into work (give sense of freedom and control)
- Offer offices surrounded by nature and fostering creativity
Mental health, leisure and tourism perspectives
As I am oriented business development and tourism, as consultant, I prototyped hiking excursions and social events in collaboration with young entrepreneurs. The main idea is to offer outdoor activities, free of judgement spaces for people to open up, disconnect, creating meaningful connections with themselves and others.
With Samantha SACCHI from The Self Club, we prototyped the "Playgrounds for adults". A 2h social event offering games allowing the humans to reconnect with their inner child and share their lives. On the side, I organised hiking day trips, using hiking as support to share and help people to open up. Both experiments were a success proving the results found through the interviews.