It’s Time to Improve How We Discuss Mental Health

Today, one in five adults has a mental health condition. So, there’s a pretty good chance you know someone who does — or you may have a condition yourself. Either way, days like this week’s World Mental Health Day and Mental Illness Awareness Week, all remind us all that it’s time to do a better job of talking about it.

I see a few ways we can bring this to life for ourselves or for loved ones who have mental health conditions, problems or illnesses.

Don’t believe the myths.
I believe there’s a shared mindset that treats mental health differently than physical health. There’s a lot of shame and fear circulating around it –and a lot of misunderstanding. I created the video below with that in mind. It includes myths and facts from mentalhealth.gov, and it dispels a few common misconceptions.

Realize mental disorders don’t define people.
I believe a mental health condition does not define anyone. It’s only one dimension of many that make up the beautiful, wonderful human existence we all share.

I can’t speak to all disorders or conditions, but I can speak to anxiety and depression. I have lived with both for years, and both were awful until I treated them. Today, I have a great doctor and a medication that truly works. I have also learned coping skills that make the world a much better place.

Do I have rough days? Sure. Am I a functioning member of society and the business world? Definitely. My organic brain chemistry is a little different. That’s all. I take medication to correct it, and I’m good with that.

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Recognize that shame and fear are toxic.
It’s time to reshape the way we think about mental health. Mine is a detail, not a definition. And, I refuse to stigmatize myself or anyone else for it. If I had diabetes, would anyone judge me for needing to check my blood sugar levels or for taking insulin? Then, why feel ashamed for taking steps to address mental health?

For far too long a stigma has been associated with mental illness, conditions or problems, and it’s is not limited to social circles. According to Psychology Today, people with mental conditions stigmatize themselves too. They can feel ashamed. Or, they may fear others would worry, think less of them, pity them or treat them differently if they knew.

While I understand this (because I have lived it), I don’t believe it. And, I don’t accept it.

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Shame and fear are toxic. What others think of me is none of my business. And, taking steps to be healthy — including talking about what ails me — is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength for anyone who is on the path to health and well being. Why? Like any journey, walking the path of health takes a personal commitment, hard work and the drive to see it through day-after-day.

Break the silence.
As the infographic from NAMI shows, millions of Americans are living with mental health problems today.  Sadly, not enough people are seeking or receiving the care or treatment they need. As the graphic points out, the consequences and impact of untreated mental health issues are staggering.

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I know approaching the topic can be hard. Psychology Today cites that even the language many people use to talk about mental health can offend people who live with conditions. I believe it’s worth the effort and awkwardness to approach the subject with the right people, whether it’s for a loved one or for yourself.

Choose wisely.
Don’t be blind about who you choose to trust with a conversation on mental health, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. You don’t want to undermine your or anyone else’s mental well being by bringing in people who are likely to prey on you or others or make conditions worse.

If you don’t know if you can trust someone with a conversation on this, chances are you don’t know them well enough to share. Save it for a professional therapist or someone else who doesn’t give you doubts.

Take steps towards health and healing.
You can find plenty of resources online to help you understand, find help or care or assess yourself if that’s what you need. And, see the tips from mentalhealth.gov, in the video embedded in this post if you’re looking for ways to help a loved one.

Every person’s mental health journey is his or her own. And, in my experience, the road to health starts with talking about the obstacles, challenges and ways to heal.

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Whether that discussion is between two family members, two trusted friends or a professional and patient, my point is, we need to bring mental health issues out of the shadows for the people we love. Avoiding the subject isn’t going to help anyone heal.

Everyone deserves to be healthy — mentally and physically — and striving for that is worth every step of the journey.

Yes, I’m healthy. Yes, some days that’s hard work. But, I will never, ever give up on my path to health and well being.

How about you?

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