One of the things I've learned about mental health while writing this blog over the last year, is just how invisible it is and how that invisibility contributes to our undervaluing of our own and others' mental well-being.
Hanging out with mental health caregivers, I've often heard them compare caring for one's mental health to physical healing, as in, 'if I broke my arm, I'd see a doctor so why wouldn't I see a therapist if my mind is unwell?'
It makes sense, right?
But the glaring difference between that sense of heavy depression or persistent anxiety and a broken arm is that your arm will be put in a cast, or at least given a sling or other brace to heal, making it clearly visible to other people.
Anyone you encounter will observe your arm is broken and understand that you might be experiencing pain or discomfort and that, therefore, there may be tasks you won't be able to complete without assistance.
Family, friends, employers, even people you meet while eating out or shopping, will likely be more willing to reach out and offer assistance while you're hurt. At the very least, there would be some accommodation made for your healing process.
But not so with mental health.
For the most part, we don't see the pain or discomfort that it produces in people. Or if we do, we don't always recognize it for what it is. And without clear visible signs, we may be less empathic or understanding of the person’s experience.
For example, we might notice that a co-worker is looking down or acting differently, but the odds are that if we ask, 'How are you doing?' the response might be the uninformative "I'm fine," even if they’re actually struggling.
So how do we change this? How do we make mental health more visible?
It's helpful that it’s become a more widely accepted topic of conversation recently and that public figures have been quicker to share their own mental health struggles. From Prince Harry to Simone Biles, we've heard celebrities and athletes talk openly about their mental states and the steps they’ve taken to support themselves.
In that spirit, those of us who are not famous can begin to be more forthcoming about our own struggles, particularly with the people we trust most. This might be as simple as describing how we are feeling in the moment, or going deeper by taking the time to help educate others about our mental illness and what that feels like in our daily lives.
We can also accept that mental well-being is a process of healing. Just like a bone needs time to be repaired, so too does our mental health, and the process - whether physical or mental - deserves the same level of compassion from us.
Most importantly, we can accept that we can’t always know another’s experience or state-of-being simply by looking at them. But we can learn to trust others and understand we are all doing the best we can.
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