#MentalHealthMatters- Part 1: Why Mental Health Matters
Remember that one semester in college that you flunked because you just couldn't get out of bed or make it to class? How about that paralyzing fear that comes over you every time you have to drive over a bridge? Not you? Okay, how about that rage you sometimes fly into when someone pisses you off that you can't seem to get a handle of? Or, when no matter how much you try, you just can't stop eating all that junk food, even though you know it is horrible for you? Maybe you're the person who has no problems, but it's everyone around you that is the problem. They just need to do what they need to do and there wouldn't be a problem. Or maybe, you went through a horrible situation that you just can't seem to get out of your head. You have frequent flashbacks or nightmares that make you relive all the feelings and emotions you experienced then. Or, maybe you're completely normal, and your life is perfectly in order, but all you require is that everything be in order, since you're a natural perfectionist who just needs to double or triple check things to make sure that everything will go okay.
Are any of these experiences familiar to you? We would venture to say most of us have experienced at least one of the examples above before, and there are some of us who experiences these on a somewhat regular basis. Just swap out the experiences and but leave the feelings. When we stop to look at these experiences and look behind the curtain and examine what we're feeling in our daily experiences, we would realize that the majority of us struggle with some aspect of balanced mental health. Don't think so? The above scenarios picture symptoms of depression, ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, borderline personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and potential obsessive compulsive disorder issues.
These are the days of our lives. We go through our lives believing that we are not affected by mental health problems in any way. The mental health issue only relates to "the crazies" out there. Never in our own home, not in our families, and certainly not in our mirrors. It's a pervasive problem in our society today. The reason why we end up with people who do harm to themselves or others is because we avoid this topic and neglect to really deal with it. This is a form of delusion; not being able to see ourselves clearly enough to recognize the way our behaviors and life problems are connected to our mental condition. It is indeed very uncomfortable to discuss and and think about, but without taking a stronger stance on this issue, we are prone to have more and more problems as the world continues to become more intertwined. This brings us to a very important question...
What exactly is Mental Health?
This brings us to a very important question; what exactly is mental health? The top three results in Google gives us the following definitions:
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. (MentalHealth.gov)
A mental illness is a condition that affects a person's thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone's ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis. (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community... "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." (World Health Organization)
These definitions all clearly show how wide and varied issues of mental health can be. We wholeheartedly agree and endorse the above definitions of mental health. We would, however, like to add an additional encapsulation of mental health. Our definition of mental and emotional health, which we use interchangeably, is "The process on engaging with your mental, emotional, spiritual and relational self with the continuous goal of seeking balance and moving forward in our lives." We define it in this way in order to expand the concept of mental health not only as a noun, but instead an adverb, an active and continuous state that requires individual consent and effort.
Show me the "MentalHealthFax"
The implications of emotional health are clear; most of society's biggest social problems are tied to the issue of poor emotional health our households. Domestic violence, divorce and bullying are often the aftereffects of poor emotional coping or habits that bleed out into our lives and communities. It is important to realize that someone with no genetic predisposition to mental illness can become mentally ill if exposed to an emotionally unfavorable environment. It is also true that a person who has significant symptoms of mental illness can live a full and productive life with the appropriate mental health interventions. However, and most importantly, a person without clear issues of mental illness can have more destructive and toxic lives than a person diagnosed as mentally ill, and commit equally depraved acts as someone we stigmatize as "mentally ill". It is arrogant to delude ourselves out of taking mental and emotional health seriously because we believe we do not carry the genetic code for certain mental illnesses. Here are some mental health facts to consider:
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people (CDC)
- 440,000 suicide attempts per year (CDC)
- 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce (APA)
- 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce (Psychology Today)
- 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime (NCADV.org)
- 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying
- 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying
There are very few times in society that people feel comfortable speaking about mental health. Unfortunately, we usually begin and end this dialogue after the worst tragedies (i.e mass shootings, suicides, etc.) We can see that these issues are at play constantly, but we refuse to connect the dots. We as a society make two major distortions of looking at mental health. First, we negatively stereotype those suffering from mental illnesses as all "deranged" and completely crazy, when the bulk of mental health patients are normal children and adults suffering from anxiety and/or depression. Second, because of this first distortion, we fail to examine the role mental health plays in the actions of people we label as "thugs", "extremists", "radicals", "lazy" and other dehumanizing terms. We often reserve the sympathetic view of mental health for those we can understand and relate to. This is why many a lone gunman is referred to as mentally ill, while a gang leader is simply a vicious animal. Even with our understanding of how poor environment and life situations affect people,we still tend to stigmatize and brush aside people we believe to "struggle" with "that illness".
The fact is, mental health issues are all around us every day! There is "mental illness" in our schools, in our workplaces, in our politics, in our churches, in our homes and most importantly, in our mirrors. We just don't call it "mental illness". We call it relationship drama, or stress, or a bad habit or "guilty pleasures". We call it everything we can think of to disassociate from it. In this series, we will discuss why mental health matters, and the concept that mental health does not only concern the "mentally ill", but that emotional health is integral to every person's entire health. Our goal is to demystify and re-personalize emotional and mental health as equally important as any other area of health in our lives. By ignoring these issues we create a dangerous feedback loop in our society.
A Dangerous Feedback Loop
For some reason, society has made it unacceptable to talk about emotions and mental well-being. We refuse to acknowledge that our brains and our emotions are indeed a part of us, and that they can fail us like any other part of us if we don't take care of ourselves. This status quo creates an environment that allows emotional problems to fester, creating chronic toxicity leaving us changed down to our very DNA. The impact of poor environment and poor coping mechanisms changes the very fabric of who we are as people.
The emotional and mental spaces we inhabit change our lives on a cellular level. They change our brain chemistry and our neural pathways. They change our physical and external environment by driving us to make choices that abuse our bodies through our diets and and drugs; and they affect our relationships by creating emotionally abusive tendencies that we dont even notice, which affect our children. They affect children who do not understand why they are abused at home and in turn abuse those they see at school. They affect those children who are bullied, causing them to struggle with their self-esteem and sanity. They affect the way our bosses run their organizations and how we deal with those demands. They affect how we interact with our communities and how we treat those we don't count as a part of our community. They affect our politics and policies and subsequenctly, our world.
A conversation takes place between society as a whole and the individual when it comes to mental health. We collectively deny mental health issues and distance ourselves from them, communicating to the individual that there is a shame that goes with mental illness, creating a fear of being diagnosed. This makes us live in silent despair, allowing our emotional cancers to metastasize. In America we have an silent epidemic of poor mental and emotional health. The implications of this problem are far-reaching, and if we continue to ignore this problem, we will continue to see the proliferation of issues directly and indirectly tied to our mental health.
All in all, mental health matters. It matters for you and me, for our families, our communities, nation, and world. The healthier we are, the more we thrive. It's time we make mental and emotional health just as much of a priority as our physical well-being. We can't afford not to.
We've created resources designed to help you assess and begin to deal with this specific issue. We have a free community area that gives you access to guide sheets relating to the topics discussed in this blog. Check out our free community resource area to access downloadable PDF guide sheets for this blog and much more:
We have created original merchandise for this blog series that are intended to help remind you of the messages of self love and acceptance we have talked about here. Click on the items below or visit our store page to shop for original products made with you and your journey to move forward in mind.