So before I start harping on, I have a few questions.
- What is the first thing that enters your mind when you see or hear the words mental health?
- Why are they so powerful?
When you come across those words I bet for the majority of people that if we played ‘word association’ we would be greeted with a whole range of negative words, negative perceptions, and for some, misconceptions about its meaning.
It is interesting that mental health – two words that affect every person on Earth have become so feared. Unnecessarily I might add!
- If we were to play ‘word association’ with physical health, would your answers be any different? How about if we say social health?
I have been wanting to write about mental health and mental illness for a while because there are (in my eyes) big issues around the wording and terminology we have in our society. And not just with these, but with many other words associated to health and wellbeing every single day. Before I go on it is really important I point out the difference between mental health and mental illness.
Mental health ‘is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’ WHO. Mental health is something we all have, it can be both good and also not so good. And it moves, it changes, we may have ups and downs with mental health the same as we might with physical health.
Mental illness is ‘a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.’ –NAMI.
So I thought I would do a poll, my own little social experiment of word association and the responses were albeit very honest, but a reflection of how culture and society has led to us having a big misconception and lack of understanding of the word.
Some responses included;
Stress, depression, illness, fear, weak, not enough support, unstable.
How does this happen?
Why are we so drawn to negatives when talking about these words? And for those who clearly saw the tweet and status but didn’t respond, why didn’t you? Was it through fear of being associated with it? Was it because you don’t think it matters to you? Was it worry over whether you said the right/wrong thing?
I am fascinated with how this has become such a misunderstood term.
Let’s talk physical health. Everyone has physical health, one might have an accident and chronic pain, that required treatment and management but is (for many conditions) treatable. One might have a cold or flu, a little bug and physically feel unwell, but then a few days later and a small intervention i.e. antibiotics etc and they get better. We accept this in society because it happens to everyone right? We have all felt a little poorly at times, probably all visited the doctor or gone home for some tlc, and that’s fine.
We also have a HUGE boom in culture around physical health and working to get active, improve physical health both from government and health agendas but also social media getting involved. Crossfit gyms, personal trainers, various walking and exercise groups, Instagram pinterst and other social media platforms getting involved and suddenly it is cool to look after and work on physical health. Because at the end of the day, a good active balanced lifestyle has an impact on long term physical health right?
So why the hell aren’t we doing this with mental health?
We understand that physically, certain foods, exercise and/or physical activity, sleep, limited alcohol etc are all protective factors, they look after our physical health and have been proven to prevent the onset of many health conditions.
So with our mental health what can we do? It is NO DIFFERENT!! I find it very frustrating both professionally and personally. I have always, since the day I set up my company, tried to encourage the proactive side to our work. Yes, there is a place for a reactive service. But there is an even bigger place for PREVENTION, being PROACTIVE, and actively looking after our mental health.
The protective factors link in with physical, social and financial health. They can be as simple as;
- Getting enough sleep
- Getting sufficient daylight
- Having quality time with friends and family,
- Making the time to do your hobbies and have some time for you.
It isn’t rocket science, but we don’t always encourage them and we certainly don’t prioritise them in our own lives.
I don’t think it is always a lack of education or awareness, because we all know ourselves more than anyone else could. Sometimes we may need the support of others to identify them and put these factors in place, but I think the real issue lies with society, our culture. The fact that we go around cringing whenever we hear those words, we try to avoid engaging in those conversations in case somehow we get tarnished, or draw attention to ourselves. When actually what we need to do is start talking more; not about mental illnesses, but our own mental health. We see so many posts and pictures on social media for completing a big walk, hike or run, why don’t we do it when we have done an hours meditation? Or had an hour to self reflect? Why don’t we talk about our own mental health more to actually promote this aspect of health.
We need to stop being scared of these words and realise them for their true potential. Our mental health is fundamental and an essential part to our overall wellbeing, so why don’t we start acting like it! We know we can promote and improve mental health, the same as we can physical health, so let’s make a conscious effort to break down those misconceptions and start putting us first. We do that, and slowly we’ll start to change that unhealthy culture and have an environment where mental health is being talked about and prioritised the same as a person’s physical health.
I am going to kick start this off by leaving my own statement about my mental health;
‘Today I am going to spend some time at my allotment. Because my brain needs a rest and the fresh air always makes me feel better. And for me this a really important part of maintaining my own mental health’