You’ve probably already seen it somewhere – May is Mental Health Awareness month.
Apparently it’s been designated that since 1949. I had no idea there was any such thing until I became a therapist. Actually, I had very little concept of mental health until I became a therapist.
Of course, I knew (ha!) about mental illness. Stories about “crazy” homeless men, Vietnam vets who had gone “round the bend,” people who heard voices or talked to themselves. But we didn’t talk about those things.
When I worked as a paramedic a few decades ago I saw plenty of issues – attempted suicide, addiction, panic attacks, and more – but had little training in mental health, for whatever reasons. My coworkers (including other responders), at least in my memory and experience, seem to have viewed mental health challenges much like the rest of the culture at the time did – a weakness, a flaw.
We’ve come a long way. Oh, there’s still a lot of stigma, especially with certain issues or in certain places/communities. I get it. Mental health challenges can be scary, both for the sufferer and for their friends and family. We have a lot more knowledge now than ever before, good treatments, better medications if those are necessary, more (and more varied types of) providers. But there’s still a lot we don’t know, and I wonder even if we can know exactly, given how these things play out in so many different ways because we as people are all different with individual biochemistry and physiology and ways of thinking and experiences and in different relationships… You get the picture. So sometimes it seems easier to deny, dismiss, tell someone to just “get over it,” “pull up your big boy/girl pants,” or pretend there’s not a problem.
I do want to mention that I fear sometimes going too far in the other direction and pathologizing EVERYTHING. Especially if you do an internet search for your symptoms. (Don’t do that! You’ll be sure to find something that says you’re dying.)
What I’d like us to do is normalize mental health challenges. It’s normal to feel anxious sometimes, especially lately with everything most of us have been through in the last couple of years. It’s normal to feel grief about a variety of things, and even for a long time after a big loss. It’s normal to feel down sometimes. It’s even normal to have strong, sometimes long-lasting emotional and physiological reactions to severely stressful events (trauma reactions). And it’s normal to need some support and encouragement, some wisdom and helpful tools, from others who have some expertise or experience.
Sometimes what we experience goes outside “normal” and we need more support, more expertise to function well. But we can even normalize that. Just as many people struggle with cancers or high cholesterol or failing eyesight, many people will struggle with clinical depression or high anxiety or ADHD or PTSD.
Mental health challenges are not a weakness. I believe they are part of the human experience. And I believe they are an opportunity for us to help and care for one another.
Some of us make that our life’s work, to learn as much as we can in order to help you gain tools to help yourself, to support and encourage you in getting your life and your relationships back on track and to a great place. If you’d like to know more about how we can help you make life better give us a call, shoot us an email, contact us on social media - wherever you're reading this blog. We’d love to chat.
(PC: Photo by Vesky on Unsplash)