Welcome to Mental Health Awareness month!
While mental health has definitely come more into the fore front of national and international attention, it still remains very much stigmatized culturally and by society as a whole. While almost 46.4% of American adults experience mental illness during their lifetime and approximately 43.8 million people experience mental illness annually, less than half of them seek professional assistance. Why? Because the stigma that asking for help is a sign of weakness and the idea that we better “buck up and tough things out” is still very much the all-American way. We villainize and minimize therapists calling them shrinks and belittle and demean those who need compassion and grace by labelling them as “crazy” or “bipolar” or “psycho.” No one bothers to look at the bigger picture of what is going on in their lives and are content judging others from afar.
The treatment of mental health issues has been my bread and butter for almost a decade now, and the stigma associated with mental health enrages me into throwing two middle fingers in the air and telling the world to back the f*ck up with their judgments. In working with those with mental health issues and even having my own diagnoses under my belt (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), I have learned a lot about the human condition and mental health.
- Everyone feels pain so everyone needs help. Life can be very beautiful but it is also very hard at times. There are days that we are brought to our knees by the sucker punches that life deals us. The deaths, the losses, the disappointments, and the physical and/or emotional pain are, at times, all-consuming and debilitating. To pretend that we are almighty and above the pain included in the human experience is arrogant, and to not seek help in connection through the pain is inhuman. We are wired for connection; we exist for connection; and being present through vulnerability is how we build that connection. And at the end of the day, that is what “help” is – being vulnerable to build connection. Sometimes it is easier to seek help from those who care for us the most and sometimes that is the hardest thing to do. Maybe the anonymity of seeking help from a stranger makes us feel more connected to a bigger world. Everyone has at one point been hurt, and the need empathy is our bridge to reach for one another. It is okay to be crushed by the wheels of life but it is even more okay to recognize that we need help.
- Mental health is part of the integrated person.A few years ago when I was working in the clinics, there was a buzz in the air around this idea of integrated healthcare which is the idea of treating mental and physical health simultaneously for maximum health. This was the most progressive treatment of medicine I had seen in a loooooong time, and I was all about it. As important as it is to take care of our physical person, it is just as important to take care or our mental health … and our emotional health …. and our spiritual health. In truth, the human being is an integrated entity and the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves have a symbiotic relationship that plays a role in our overall feeling of fulfillment. You won’t be mentally healthy if you are physically unhealthy, if you are lacking spirituality, and if you are emotionally deprived. They all work interdependently with one another so when we say mental health matters, it is because of the vital role it plays in overall being.
- We are responsible for our own mental health and healing. Why is it that we as humans only take responsibility for our health when things are bad or are on the verge of being bad? A person can be told for years that they need to exercise and eat better but only make the life changes once they have a heart attack or are being told that their diabetes is so out of control that if changes are not made, they can lose a foot. As we are responsible for our physical health, we are responsible for our mental health. Do we have to really have to wait to have a nervous breakdown or a full-blown heart attack mimicking panic attack before we realize we need to take care of our mental health? Rest and self-care are just as vital for our physical health as it is our mental health. Therapy can help teach us the tools to cope with the hardships of life and alleviate some of the stress thrust upon us. But again, only we are responsible for taking care of ourselves and no one else.
- Every individual has the ability to change the perception of mental health. Every individual needs to take responsibility for their part in creating the negative stigmas surrounding mental health, and as far as I am concerned, we are all to blame… even me. It is the mindset of mental illness as a weakness; or the idea that we need to “man up” or “tough it out”; or telling someone it isn’t okay to feel what they feel and “stop crying” or that they are just “looking for attention.” It is the language we use that demeans human feelings , experiences, and minimizes the severity of real mental health illnesses: the words “crazy,” “insane,” “bipolar,” or “psychotic.” The truth is that we all have believed and said some of these things, and we unknowingly have contributed to the negative script around mental health and mental health treatment but we can undo what we have done. We can change the language we use; we can embrace vulnerability; we can validate feelings; and we can normalize asking for help.
October is Mental Health Awareness month so my genuine hope is that we all take responsibility for our own mental health and assess how we can better take care of ourselves. I hope we are a little bit gentler with ourselves; I hope we are a little bit kinder to one another; and I hope that we can break the stigmas surrounding mental health.