Updated: Nov 24, 2022
The conversation regarding mental health has predominated social media platforms, talk shows and podcasts for the last 10 years. Each year the focus becomes more acute, and we become more acquainted with the idea that mental health is in fact an urgent talking point. This has been especially clear in the number of youths who have turned to self-harm, drugs, alcohol and some, to suicide because of the lack of understanding surrounding the subject and the stigma attached to mental health as well as the complete lack of avenues available to our youth in searching for help. For many youths, they are either not taken seriously enough or intervention comes a little too late.
However, this is not just an epidemic amongst our youth. It is and has always been prevalent throughout the ages of time. The words often used were, "Oh it's just a phase!" or "It's just teenage drama!" or, my personal favourite, "They're just looking for attention." Society has evolved enough to at least work on eliminating the demeaning descriptions and stigmatisms of those suffering with a mental illness or whose mental health is at risk. But the question remains, what exactly is meant by 'mental health'?
Many parents, children, employers and employees do not fully understand the necessity of communicating the importance of taking care of one's 'mental health'. When we speak about mental health, we are referring to a person's emotional, social, physical and psychological well-being. Our Mental health affects the way we think, act and feel. It will determine how we handle conflict and stress as well as our ability to make good choices for ourselves and for those around us. It also needs to be understood that because our mental health directly affects our behaviour, it also affects those family and friends around us who are journeying with us through life. What is key to note is that none of us is responsible for someone else's behaviour. We can only control our response to said behaviour. The aim is teaching our children to take responsibility for their wellbeing. To help them understand that you are neither selfish nor conceited for wanting to attend to your mental health. They are not being dramatic or weak. They are not looking for attention. They are not 'too much'. Therefore, as parents, teachers, grandparents and friends, we all need to be examples of what that looks like. We need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
The issue of mental health is often clouded and complicated by our own experiences within our own lives. Some of us grew up with the mentality handed down to us of, 'pull yourself together and just get on with it.' Often this sentiment is coupled with an absolute refusal to seek therapy as this would be tantamount to weakness. Then there is the constant unhelpful comparison, "Well, in my day..." that leaves the sufferer feeling like they just can't cut it. This type of mentality is unhelpful. Especially to someone in crisis.
So, what is the answer? Simply put, we need a mind shift. Change is difficult and uncomfortable, but it is necessary for growth. As adults leading our children into a very uncertain future, we should be considering the long-term effects of such closed mindedness, for ourselves as well as our loved ones. Many people will not engage in conversation out of fear. Fear at the thought that someone they know, and love is not coping... fear born out of long-term psychological conditioning that regards looking after one's own mental health as somehow selfish. Fear of what others may say about you, to you or fear over the way people's behaviour may change towards you should you have the courage to admit your own need for help, let alone someone you know and love. And then there is the fear that your thinking may have to change because what you understood before is in fact incorrect.
Societal norm, (which is changing, albeit at a snail’s pace) dictates that we should command the stiff upper lip and rise above it all. That we remain private in our struggle and that we don't under any circumstances air our 'dirty laundry'. This 'modus operandi' is only accomplished in the short term and simply cannot be sustained without help. And by 'help', I do not mean the good kind! In order to progress, we must first take a few steps back and re-evaluate our thinking. We need to stop waiting for someone else to educate us or speak up for us. We need to take the time to understand the deep and lasting effects of trauma; the effects of depression and anxiety on our bodies; the coping habits we form just to make it through the day. We need to be taking this thing called 'Mental Health' very seriously.
In order to shift your mindset, there is one ingredient that is needed. COURAGE. It takes a huge amount of courage to admit that you need to change your thinking but an even bigger dose to do it. It requires time, something that a lot of us claim not to have, which is a problem. It requires that we may need to do things differently. This is one of the most difficult aspects of the mind shift. Having the courage to not follow the status quo is always tough. However, if we can find the courage to put into action a plan that works for us and our family even though it may not look anything like anyone else's plan, we are already halfway there. I can testify to the fact that getting off the hamster wheel is just plain hard. As a family who live life auto-immune compromised, we have had to do things differently. Anxiety and depression are very much ongoing battles for us, and we have found the importance of paying attention to what is happening in our minds as well as our bodies. We have all suffered trauma on one level or another and we have learnt that ignoring the signals that our bodies and minds are giving us, letting us know that we are in crisis, can be detrimental... deadly even.
If you are at the point where you know that something has to change, then you are ripe for a huge dose of COURAGE FOR THE MOMENT. Don't let it pass you buy. The first step is acknowledging that something is just not right. I know it's scary... Perhaps it's you who needs the help or perhaps it's a family member. Either way, I stand with you. It's okay to be afraid. It's okay to feel overwhelmed. You are not alone. All it takes is one step in the right direction.
As we explore the subject of mental health together, I would love your feedback. Perhaps you have struggled. What has helped you? What tools have you been given to address the challenges you face? Do you have a testimony that you would like to share? I would love to hear from you! In the meantime, keep growing, keep learning, keep moving forward!