Grit and Mental Wellness

Have you heard about Grit? I recently read Angela Duckworth’s book by that title, and I can’t stop wondering how to answer the questions the science of grit hasn’t illuminated yet. In particular, is lack of grit contributing to the disability from mental illnesses?

Grit is the drive to keep going, even when things get hard or boring.

Why am I worried about Grit?

I met another mom today whose young adult is giving up. He's giving up on adulthood, hard work, dreaming for his future... Giving up seems increasing common in the 18-25-year-olds I meet as in my clinical practice of psychiatry.

Some of the young people give up when they feel things are too hard, or when circumstances feel unfair. Record numbers of young people quit college. They quit jobs. They go home to live off their parents.

In mental health clinics, these young people often cite their illnesses as the reason they quit. They say their anxiety or their depression are incapacitating. But I’m skeptical. I see other people with the same illnesses of similar severity that kept going.

Grit seems to be in the DNA of some, and innately missing from others. Why does anxiety lead one student to drop out, and another to persevere?

Like the story of the little engine that kept trying to get over the hill, gritty people push with all they have in the face of apparently insurmountable odds. 

I think mental disorders get a bad wrap. Anxiety and depression get blamed for quitting, when sometimes we need to look at the absence of grit. 

I'm not quite sure how to help people develop grit when it's not an inherent trait they possess, but science is searching for an answer. For now, I'll try to encourage anxious young people to face their fears, and depressed people to keep going. But I hope the science of grit has something to offer the field of mental health. I think it might be a missing piece of the puzzle for young adults who struggle with mental health issues.   

Posted on July 31, 2017 .