It’s Time to Have an Honest Conversation About Mental Health.
I wish I could somehow show you the look on people’s faces when I remind them to take care of their mental health. Some people react with a smile, others look at me like I am speaking an entirely different language to them. When I tell people that I am sick with a common illness like the cold, they send me their best wishes and encourage me to rest, see a doctor, drink plenty of water, take it easy etc.
However, when a person is sick with a mental illness, they rarely receive the same compassion and understanding. Why is that? I don’t have all the answers, but if I had to guess it would be because so many of us don’t know how to recognize a mental illness and/or we don’t feel comfortable sharing our real emotions out of fear of oversharing or being misunderstood in a society that highlights only the best parts of their lives.
Sure, I joke about how the traffic is making me “crazy” or how my professor might be “driving me nuts,” but the reality is that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (thats 43.8 million) experience mental illness in a given year. Additionally, approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. (9.8 million) experience a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
That means that 1 out of every 5 adults is highly likely to have experienced prolonged depression, feelings of extreme highs and lows, excessive fears, worries and anxieties, suicidal thoughts, dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits, social withdrawal…the list goes on. For those of you that have never experienced any of these things — please tell me your secret. But for most of us, 1 out of every 5, we have a real problem that isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Why?
From my own experience, I believe that it’s the closeness of mental illness rather than it’s uncertainty that makes it so scary and taboo. In addition, many people don’t seek treatment, remain unaware or refuse to believe that their symptoms could be connected to a mental health condition. To add fuel to the fire, Western medicine generally asserts mental illness as an individual problem: that people with mental health challenges are personally responsible for achieving our own wellness and therefore don’t have the resources to get help from a professional.
If you’re someone who has felt out of place because of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder etc. I wrote this post to remind you that you’re not any less human than the rest of us. I want you to know that regardless of how satisfying or how lousy your life might feel at this very second, hope is a beautiful thing and you’re right to not give up.
I’ll conclude by saying that everyone has their own way of taking care of their mental health. I encourage everyone, even if you don’t feel like you’re struggling, to practice self care. Practicing good mental health has proven to strengthen and support our ability to have healthy relationships, make good life choices, maintain physical health and well-being, handle the natural ups and downs of life, and discover and grow towards our full potential. If you don’t know where to start, I’ll give you my top 5 mental health priorities:
- Take care of that smokin’ hot body of yours
- Slowww downnnn
- Reach out to others for help when you need it
- Practice healthy thinking
- Do things that you actually enjoy doing
Compassion, support and an open mind all help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. We can all do our part by making our own mental health a priority, replacing the stigma with hope, and helping individuals overcome any challenges and barriers.
NOTE: If you or someone you know needs help, call 1–800–273–8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.