It’s Mental Health Awareness Month.
When we say “mental health” many people think mental health problems or mental health issues. Hence, there remains a stigma about even talking about mental health.
Well, mental health can also refer to wellness. We all have “mental health” but as with physical health, we tend to notice illness more than wellness. Nor is it a simple on-off switch where you are either mentally well or mentally ill. In fact, most people enjoy relatively good mental health.
I spent close to 20 years working with people who experienced mental health difficulties. In working with people labeled with psychiatric diagnoses, however, I learned the mentally ill are fundamentally no different than us. Societies segregate the worst cases, locking up the “lunatics” and “imbeciles” (once common, now archaic clinical terms).
We reversed the old saying: out of mind, out of sight — literally.
My wok taught a lot about about various conditions and diagnoses. Years before most people had heard of autism, I learned about the concept of a spectrum of autism and found it very enlightening — and on point. Various individuals display various symptoms to differing degrees.
We all encounter depressing circumstances but not everyone experiences clinical depression. We all experience anxiety facing certain situations but not everyone gets paralyzed by anxiety attacks. We all have internal monologues but not everyone hears “voices” like someone with schizophrenia might.
Yes, we all have mental health. From mental illness to mental wellness, we exist on a mental health spectrum. Moreover, where we fall on that spectrum remains dynamic throughout our life. It can change minute-to-minute, day-to-day, or over a long stretch of time.
We could all use some form of help, or therapy, whether we get it from a licensed healthcare professional, our friends & family, clergy & gurus, or self-administered practices such as meditation, mindfulness, or cognitive-behavioral self-talk.
Me, I was lucky. My work at the Brown Schools basically provided me 15 years of free therapy. I didn’t even have to probe my deepest, darkest secrets through psychotherapy. I absorbed my therapeutic lessons through osmosis via immersion in the treatments milieu. Surround yourself with people focused on mental health, and, well, you see mental health everywhere. And you start to see opportunities for working on mental wellness.
If we use our spectrum imagery, in fact, we can shift from illness to wellness by shifting from “I” to “we.” We all get by with a little help from our friends.
Here’s to your mental health, my friends!