I came to the conclusion that there are probably thousands of stigmas associated with mental health and the stigma you feel passionate about ending probably has a lot to do with your personal journey. I would love to get tons of comments on this post about which stigma you want changed. However, I do not have those comments yet and I am definitely not the research type that likes to collect and categorize thousands of people’s responses, so I am left to write from my own experience and thoughts. I am in no way saying the stigmas I feel most passionate about are the most important, but I did narrow it down to three that I feel strongly about addressing: 1. Mental health is only about mental illness; 2. Mental illness is only a negative experience; and 3. “We don’t talk about these things.” Tonight’s post begins this series with a look at why it can be harmful to equate mental illness with mental health in general.
Lets do a quick survey: Are you human? (yes). Do you have a brain? (I’m not being a bully – you do, most likely an awesome one). Does your brain “contain billions of nerve cells arranged in patterns that coordinate thought, emotion, behavior, movement and sensation”? (Yes!). Does your brain use a complex system of crazy-powerful chemicals (neurotransmitters) that send messages day-in and day-out to help you function and live your life? (YES!) Most importantly does your brain help you feel pain, joy, stress, excitement and a million other things as part of this whole process? Yes again? CONGRATULATIONS! You have mental health!
Yes, some of us (hand waving in the air) have a propensity to a chemical balance in our brains that leads to diagnoses like “anxiety disorder”, “bipolar disorder”, “manic depressive”. But that does not mean we are the only ones with mental health. Most importantly, it doesn’t mean we are the only ones who need to think about our mental health. I believe in the deepest parts of my heart and soul that everyone can benefit from occasionally thinking about their mental health. Everyone will have a time when they feel anxious. I learned as an undergrad that every adult goes through two depressive periods in a normal lifespan. But you don’t learn that fact and realize how normal it is unless you take an adult aging and development class. Why? Well because our society doesn’t talk about mental health in a healthy way. We are beginning to, but we have a ways to go. However, that is for part three of this series – so back to tonight's’ topic:
You have mental health. EVERYONE you love, interact with, or even pass on the street has mental health. It is part of the human experience. No one is exempt. So let’s start acknowledging those wonderful, powerful, hardworking big brains of ours. Let’s not associate the term mental health only with mental illness. This can be such a powerful first step because once we acknowledge and own our mental health it becomes less scary to help someone else who may be struggling with theirs. It is easier to relate and listen. Because after all, it affects 5-in-5 of us.