It's been fascinating to watch the conversation around mental health shift in some pretty significant ways over the past year. What was once taboo to talk about has slowly and steadily become a more acceptable topic of conversation and more people are benefiting from talking openly about it.
We are beginning to share information about our own mental health, sometimes awkwardly, often uncomfortably, but we are doing it. And as we do, we are changing the way we see our mental well-being and how we see and treat others with mental health challenges.
It hasn’t been all rosy and positive. Conversations around anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other illnesses have become more frequent mainly because more people are experiencing them due to the uncertainty and mental health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 virus. People are hurting and their hurt is pushing them to seek out better solutions.
Crisis often reveals an opportunity for growth and that's definitely where we are now - facing a tremendous opportunity for changing our thinking around mental health in ways that can create community around these experiences and make a big, positive difference for many, many people.
Here are four long-standing beliefs about mental health that are ready to change.
1. Mental health affects everyone
OLD: Mental health refers to all of the mentally ill people who are admitted to hospitals and institutions with diagnoses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They are somehow separate from the rest of us who do not have these illnesses.
NEW: Mental health is about us - all of us. As human beings, we all have and experience mental health, sometimes in strong and healthy ways and, at other times, in need of nurturing, support, and even professional help. Mental health affects everyone.
2. We are more than the chemical failings of our brains
OLD: A person with a mental illness diagnosis is defined by that illness. It is a lifetime label that limits their ability to function well with people who are considered mentally healthy. There is no cure.
NEW: A person's mental health is complex and unique and cannot be summed up with a medical diagnosis. Even people who share a diagnosis will receive different treatments and respond in their own way, depending on the individual's unique strengths and weaknesses. We are more than the chemical failings of our brains. Trying to limit an individual to a diagnosis is harmful and unnecessary and strips them of their humanity.
3. Mental health needs specific conditions to remain healthy
OLD: Mental health, unlike physical health, needs no preventive care. You are either born healthy or, through genetics or other factors, your brain breaks down and you are diagnosed with a mental illness. When that happens, you should be under the care of professionals.
NEW: Mental and physical health are two sides of the same coin with more overlap than previously thought. Mental health, like physical health, needs specific conditions to remain healthy. Many of these conditions are the same as the ones that keep us physically healthy, such as eating well, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep.
4. You are not alone
OLD: Receiving a mental health diagnosis is a step toward isolation and struggle. Stigma is real and people often choose to struggle alone, hiding their pain, to avoid it.
NEW: You are not alone. All of the above belief changes lead inexorably to this one - a new understanding of mental health as fluid and existing along a spectrum, where help and support is the natural step toward healing and well-being. Test it out. Reach out for help when you need it. To talk about your own mental health, call one of the available crisis lines in the Southcoast. There are people waiting to hear from you.
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