5 Reasons To Stop Ignoring Your Mental Health
The human brain is the foundation of everything that we value. The people that we love, the experiences that we cherish, the sensations that we enjoy so much—it all comes back to the brain. Why then, does our culture have such a problem with talking openly and honestly about mental health?
SOCIETY’S HISTORY WITH MENTAL HEALTH
Our lack of knowledge about the brain is an understandable problem, and it is one that medical professionals and researchers are working every day to try and solve. But until that day comes, when we can look at the brain with the certainty with which we look at bacterial infections, our society is going to have to adapt. We are all going to have to move forward with our views of mental health issues, and that includes our own. Talking openly about our own struggles, even if they may seem small at the time, is the start of a larger conversation that will move us all in the right direction. In order to do that, we have to make a conscious effort to move past stigmatizing mental health and feeling guilty about admitting our struggles.
MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA
Society still suffers greatly from stigma, a lack of knowledge, and lack of honesty about mental health conditions. Diseases of the brain, psychological syndromes and cognitive maladies have yet to establish themselves on the same footing as so many other forms of illness. If you noticed a close friend sneezing and feeling lightheaded, you wouldn’t act like nothing was happening. You would say something, and perhaps advise them to go see a doctor. For a number of reasons, Western culture has thus far found it difficult to use compassion as a motivation to improve our society’s attitudes towards mental health. We seem to only talk about this important issue in response to mass shootings, increased suicide rates, soaring medical costs and terrible crimes. But the best way to make a difference is just simple kindness and honesty. If you have a hunch that someone close may want to talk about mental health, ask them. If you would like to talk to someone, start small and go from there.
WHY DO WE AVOID MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS?
Bleak as the situation may seem, there is a reason we all tend to avoid these difficult conversations. We all live our lives biologically programmed to avoid certain things and seek out other experiences. Physical pain and emotional trauma are sensations that we all do our best to limit. Addressing mental health issues falls on the uncomfortable side of the continuum when we think about how we would like to spend our time. It is far easier to assume that the people around us are alright on the inside, that emotional issues are less important than they are, and that people will always be able to figure things out for themselves. It is equally tempting to fall into the trap of believing that every person is the master of their own mind—that the brain is not subject to misfortune and defect the way a pancreas or kidney can be. But in the end people do not choose to be depressed or anxious or go through violent personality swings, the same way they do not choose to have sickle cell anemia or high blood pressure. One of the easiest ways to stop avoiding mental health problems is to view them on equal footing with other medical conditions.
THE STATISTICS ON MENTAL HEALTH
The numbers make this problem even even more concerning. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness. One in twenty five, 9.8 million people, experience a serious mental illness that is a detriment to their daily life each year. Of the millions of people dealing with these types of issues, just 41 percent received mental health treatment in the past year. The total cost of mental illness is estimated to be just short of 200 billion dollars annually. Even if you are someone who has never gone through a period of mental illness, we can all relate to these problems. We have all felt anxious at times, even if that condition is not chronic. There is sadness and a loss of hope that is a part of being a person, even if it is not part of a long-term medical depression. Empathy is one of the most important tools that we have in dealing with these issues, so don’t be afraid to look around even if your own mental health is sound.
As serious as this issue is, and as much work as there is still to be done before our society improves approaches to mental health, significant progress is being made. In the past five years, an incredible number of professional athletes, celebrities and public figures have come forward to talk openly about their own relationships with mental health. Professional athletes in particular, have made tremendous strides in their public discussion of the issue—shirking the stigma that admitting to depression or anxiety implies weakness. Beginning in 2013, NFL receiver Brandon Marshall began wearing green cleats in support of Mental Health Awareness Week and his own foundation. In a personal essay that was submitted to The Player’s Tribune, NBA star Kevin Love opened up about his personal struggles with panic attacks, and the decision to pursue therapy. “No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt,” said Love. “They can hurt us if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need.”
Speaking to the people around you about mental health is not going to solve every problem, and opening up about your own personal struggles is just one step in the right direction. But those are the steps to take. Even though the journey ahead is hard on both sides, things do get better. Never give up.