By Stephanie Wick, Ph.D., LCMFT, LCAC
It’s 2019, and the stigma around mental health continues. The words alone are cringeworthy: ”mental health”. Or worse: “mental illness”. One might as well be saying “crazy” or “psychotic”. Certainly the one who suffers must surely look the part. Disheveled. Detached from reality. Mumbling nonsensicalities and gibberish.
But why do these misconceptions persist? The truth is, every one of us exists on a continuum of mental health/unhealth, just as we exist on a continuum of physical health/unhealth. Some of us are healthy, some of us are not. Just as with physical ailments, mental ailments do not discriminate based on age, religion, ethnicity, gender, education level or socioeconomic status. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year (National Institute for Mental Health, 2019). Depression and anxiety are among the most common.
Mental illness is often invisible. Those who struggle do not always appear to be struggling. They may look like successful doctors, teachers, attorneys and professors. Or perhaps the compassionate pastor, the generous teacher or the dedicated stay at home mom. It’s the therapist, the newly retired businessman, the farm hand, the daycare provider and the mechanic. It could be any of us. In fact, most of us will experience episodes of mental unhealth at one or many points throughout our lives (yes, even you). It’s part of the human condition. Some of us were born into a genetic pool in which mental health issues are more prevalent. Nearly all of us will experience one or more losses, traumas and/or life transitions. Both genetics and situational factors can contribute to mental health/unhealth.
Clinging to outdated stigmas and archaic understandings of mental health is helping no one. Not talking about something does not dictate whether that thing exists. It simply means it’s not being talked about. What a shame. What if diabetes or AIDS or cancer were never discussed? Would that mean that individuals who were afflicted by those ailments were not actually sick? Of course not. No one would entertain that argument. One must then ask, why do we circumvent open discussions and acceptance of mental illnesses? They may not be visible, but they are just as real and can feel just as devastating. If you struggle with a known mental illness, or if you dare to entertain an open exploration and discussion about your mental health, contact a mental health professional. If you’re not comfortable talking with a professional, start by talking with a trusted friend or family member. Whatever you do, don’t ignore your mental health. Take care of if the same way you’d care for your body.