"Our adversaries are not demons, witches, fate, or mental illness. We have no enemy whom we can fight, exorcise, or dispel by "cure." What we do have are problems in living — whether these be biologic, economic, political, or sociopsychological."
Hello, Beautiful Thinkers...
First and foremost, there's the problem with the words 'mental health'.
Usually, when someone talks about 'mental health' or seeking help for their 'mental health' we automatically presume mental health to mean something negative.
Mental health are just two words put together and without a supporting adjective, like 'bad' or 'good' or without a noun like 'problem' or 'strength' those two words don't really mean anything.
We don't do the same when it comes to physical health. We don't just presume that someone who mentions physical health is refering to something negative. Indeed, we might presume, they're talking about something positive like 'peak physical health'. But even if someoen is talking about wanting to improve their poor physical health we tend to applaud and encourage and still making it a positive thing, despite the problem indicated.
So, why this different attitude to mental health?
Secondly, the problem with dividing mental and physical health up as if they are two seperate things, as we have in the Westernised world (other, holistic cultures, are not this silly!) is that we start thinking of them as two separate concepts and they are not.
You just have the one body and in that one body, your one brain controls.
If you're getting a brain scan (MRI) and you experience physical pain, like getting pinched, the pain region of your brain will light up. But if you look at the picture of someone who broke your heart, the same (pain) region will light up. Much like if you're suffering from drug withdrawl, the same part of your brain will light up as when you're going through a bad break-up.
According to your brain, pain is pain - it doesn't care and can't tell the difference between physical and mental pain, and therefore, nor should you.
Thomas Szasz, whose been quoted above, says there is no 'mental illness' just 'problems in living'. That's to say, you're not 'sick' because you're struggling.
Johann Hari calls anxiety and depression 'normal reactions to abnormal circumstances'. Both are saying that if life offers you problems and you have a reaction to these problems, you're not sick - you're normal. If someone got a bee sting and their body reacted to this invasive problem, people don't tend to look at themselves as sick, broken or crazy, they tend to think that their bodies are having a normal reaction to the abnormal circumstance of being stung by a bee.
So, if you've experieced unpleasant or horrible things growing up, if you find yourself suddenly in the midst of a war, if you experience a significant loss, if you feel lonely and isolated, if you get bullied at work, or is asked to work harder than what's realistic and healthy, or if you have an unkind friend, partner or parent, or if your child is going through a rubbish time at school, or if the world suddenly comes to standstil due to an unknown virus, or you lose your job and your mortgage is at risk and your mental health suffers as a consequence - you're not ill.
You're having a sane reaction to insane circumstances.
Dr Bruce D. Perry encourages the world of psychology and psychiatry to ask 'what happened to you?' instead of 'what's wrong with you?'. Because there isn't anyting wong in that sense. Something happened to you and it's much more beneficial to figure that out than to pretend that there's a medical and biological reason for your suffering. No one with a happy childhood and with a good, healthy adult life suddenly finds themselves with mental health problems.
However, anyone with a happy childhood and good and healthy adult life can suddenly become mentally unwell if a problem in living occurs, like a divorce, redundantcy, berevment, a global lockdown, illness, bullying, unrealistic demands, geopolitical war or a million other problems that happen to people every day, across the globe.
OK, so you will call yourself 'sick' or 'ill' if you catch the cold or a flu, right? And nothing wrong with that. But you didn't create it or cause it. It wasn't because of some sort of personal flaw that you picked up this virus going around, and you might find it really annoying, but we don't tend to criticise ourselves for having caught someone else's bug. We don't see a cold or flue, or similar, as something to take away from our worth or humanness - we don't tend to think less of ourselves because we're physically sick.
But we do do that with 'mental illness'. We think it's our fault, we think we ought to be stronger or better. We harshly criticise ourselves for feeling the way that we do. Yet, all we've done is catch some societal decease, like the one spread by social media about how a woman ought to look and what size she ought to have, or the very deadly societal decease that's roamed for decades of men needing to 'man up', that 'boys don't cry' and that showing emotions is a weakness. This horrible, societal virus causes a staggering amount of suicides among men.
So, when our minds get 'sick', it's actually a normal reaction to an abnormal situation - like, getting really anxious before going to work because you're being bullied there. Your anxiety is a normal and a healthy reaction to an abnormal, unhealthy and unacceptable work situation.
Or, if you feel depressed and don't want to leave your bed, could it be because you're feeling dissatisfied with life, because you're in the wrong career, or your job is endlessly boring, because your life feels meaningless, because your relationship is on the rocks, because you feel lonely, because you've fallen out with a family member or because you think you're without worth in this world? Heck, anyone would feel depressed facing any on of those things, let alone if facing multiple!
Health is health.
If you have poor physical health it'll eventually impact your emotional wellbeing and you might feel increasingly angry or irritated or sad but, likewise, if you're feeling emotionally burnt out, you might encoutner physical problems like stomach aches, joint pains or headahces.
The body is one and the brain is the Master Controller.
If we only focus on our fitness and body, and give our minds no nutrition, we'll still get sick. And if we become wise scholars that never move or eat anything healthy, we'll also get sick. We need to treat our health as one and respect all aspects of it.
Your mind needs exercise - this includes being creative, laughing, feeling connected to others, being kind to yourself, giving back to others, as well as learning new things, feeling stimulated (not bored), getting rest, seeing sun light, trying new things, being allowed to feel and show those feelings outwardly, like crying, sulking, giggling, being angry, disappointed and sad, without being punished.
Much in the same way that your physical body needs exercise, nutrition, TLC, to go to the toilet, to not get over-worked, to be taken care of when hurt or broken.
We know that pushing our physical bodies can do us harm - the same goes for pushing our minds too hard by overworking, living by perfectionistic standards, by critisising ourselves all the time or punish ourselves for mistakes.
We all know that we need to eat every day, and get fluids and when we need to go to the loo we try and achieve that as soon as possible. We don't ever say "I'll just go to the toilet next week when I have more time." or "I'll have something to drink next weekend. I'm too busy just now." Nor, do we tend to tell ourselves to 'put your big girl/boy pants on and stop whining' when our stomachs growl with hunger, or say 'I'm so weak' because we need to pee. And yet, that's exactly what we do when it comes to our mind's well-being. We don't always feed it daily, we don't often prioritise it and its needs and we often look at its needs as weaknesses or personal flaws.
Our minds, our emotional well-being, our mental health if you prefer, gets treated like a side project, like an unimportant and uninteresting hobby. It gets spoken about as being 'indulgent' - like, if we take a self-care day, or if we call in sick with a mental health day. Yet, we brag if we sign up for the gym and get a personal trainer. We Instagram our healthy lunch. We may even discuss our bowel movement with a loved one (in case you're making a face right now, research has indicated that couples who talk about their toilet habits are happier together). We invite colleagues with us to lunch, or for after work drinks but when was the last time you invited someone along for an 'all you can handle' crying session? When was the last time you Instagram'ed your face full of tears or anger? When did you last proudly proclaim to the world that you've signed up for counselling? We talk freely about all the weight we want to lose, where we got our hair done and which clothes we've bought for our holiday, but where is the same openness when we want to talk about the emotional weight we want to lose, when we had our last mental health check-up and which self-help books we've bought lately because we're struggling?
Your mind's health is super important!
It shouldn't be treated like a side project or something to deal with once you're retired, or indeed be entirely ignored.
It should not be hidden and shamed.
You just have your one health - and your green smoothie is as important as your mood. Your thoughts and feelings about yourself and your future is more important than any spray tan or tattoo. Being honest about who you are and what you're dealing with should be the norm on social media, not a filter over your holiday pictures. Having deep and meaningful conversations should be a priority over 'happy hour', and finding real friends should be more important than your social media following.
Health s health.
Without one (physical) you don't have the other (mental). They're one and the same.
Lack of sleep will hurt your body and your mind - because they're one.
Lack of food or too much of the wrong kind of food will hurt you body and your mind - because they're one.
Of course, you're free to call your needs and your ideas about yourself whatever you like - even when in a room with me - and if it's a bit easier to make it clear what you're talking about by referring to your emotional well-being as mental health, you go right ahead. All I wanted to say is that the way we talk about 'mental health' with a presumption it's something negative and the presumption that it's seperate from our physical health is a bit of a misconception. There's just one health and it needs tender love and care.
Now, another reasons we got the wrong end of the stick when it comes to being mentally fit or mentally unwell has to do with not understanding our design as humans. A lot of what we consider to be wrong with us, like 'people pleasing' or our fear of rejection, or our rumination (replaying bad events over and over in our heads), or how negative we are and how hard we find it to be more positive, or how we compare ourselves to others makes a lot of sense if you look at it through an evolutionary lens. If your interst is peak, why not have a look at this article about just exatly that: You're Saner Than You Think.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, or didn't, or want to add something or have a question, feel free to comment below (but try and be kind about it - I'm a terribly sensitive soul).
Don't forget that this is just my opinion. You don't have to agree. These pieces of writing are just here to make you think and take from it what you like and find helpful and ignore the rest. At the end of the day, it's your life and, therefore, what you consume, what you believe, and what you think and feel is your choice.
Also, this article has been brought to you by a perfectly imperfect, flawsome dyslexic. I hope any potential spelling or grammar mistakes didn't take away from your enjoyment.
Meandering thoughts about life and the meaning of everything, from a know-it-not-all!