Mental Health Truths We All Need to Know

by mental health and wellness

You may have noticed that there is increased talk about mental health lately. We are even seeing people, in and beyond the celebrity sphere, being more visible and ‘out’ about their experiences with mental illness.

Whilst I think this is definately necessary and helpful I also believe that with this increased chatter there is still a lot to be done in the area of myth busting, reality checking and supporting people to seek help. It is critical that when we talk about mental health and wellness that it is done in a way that provides hope and that people know what they can do in their own lives to help themselves or  the people they care about.

Here are 7 truths about mental health that my own lived experience, work in the area over the last 18 years and increasing activism have taught me.

 

1. Everyone is affected; even when you don’t think so and in ways you won’t even realise.

 

The reality is that 1 in 5 Australians are directly affected by mental illness each year, and 1 in 2 over their lifetime. We also know that 75% of people who struggle exhibit signs before the age of 24. 

Based on these numbers alone and even if you do not suffer yourself, the ripple effects of mental health issues in the community will reach you. I am not just talking about being affected in a negative way either. I know that the experience of mental health issues is not solely terrible or that it means our life is forever impacted.

It blows my mind the stigma and taboo that remains around mental health given the sheer impact it has on peoples’ lives and our communities. There will be someone in your family. There will be someone in your class or workplace. There will be friends and peers. There will be a teacher. There will be other professionals you seek help from. There will be people who serve you. There will be people you walk past in the street. There will be celebrities. There will be people you look up to. There will be the unsung heroes living their lives. All of these people are affected, and in turn affect you, and often you won’t even know it at the time.

 

What you can do:

Approach everyone with compassion. You do not know their story just like they do not know yours. We are all human. We are all worthy.

 

 

2. It is broader than mental illness; it’s about mental health and mental wellness and it is about our overall health and wellness [full stop].

 

Over time discussions about mental health have been reduced down to talking about mental illness which is a complete misnomer and adds to the misinformation and stigma that exists.

 

Mental health is about health and wellness and not just of the mental kind.

 

Keeping the mental aspects of our health separate from the physical minimises the interplay between them and means that people and their experiences are segmented and not approached holistically. This can have a significant impact on a persons spirit and the way that they do, or do not, seek help.

I wonder how different things would be if mental health was approached like physical health is? With more compassion, acceptance and targeted intervention I am sure.

 

What you can do:

Think about the ways you prevent illness and manage your physical health. Are you as astute at looking after your mental health and wellness? Think of two ways that you can be doing more for your whole health and start doing them.

 

 

3. People’s experience of mental health concerns are affected, often negatively, by limited understandings and options for support.

 

I know that people’s mental health experiences are exacerbated by the stigma attached to them and worries about how they will be treated if others, including people close to them, become aware of what is going on. This can lead to hiding how they really are or not getting the ‘right’ treatment when they should be which may intensify or lengthen their struggle.

It is not only lay people who are misinformed and disrespectful of people who experience mental health issues either. I have seen first hand that ‘experts’ can be just as damaging in their opinions and treatment which can have an even greater impact on how people experience their mental health and getting help.

 

What you can do:

Get better informed about mental health and wellness. Know the facts, not the stereotypes. Visit the Mental Health Australia website for an overview on mental health and Beyond Blue can be a great first stop for information and strategies.

 

 

4. Labels do not do justice to the experience of mental health conditions.

 

Increasingly we have a reliance on labels and systems to categorise people and experience. I know how limited this approach is and a mere label is not what will make a person feel understood, noticed, validated, supported  or treated well in what they coping with.

Labels can offer an organising frame and be a starting point for seeking information yet they are easily misused and do not capture context and complexity for experiences and illnesses that are individually experienced, understood and related to. Yes there is a common generic experience of depression but the realities of depression mean that no two experiences of depression will ever be the same.

I know that when I was in the midst of anorexia as an adult I did not accept that I had had anorexia until I was out of the experience. I knew very well the criteria for diagnosis and I knew very well that I met it. However, I did not relate to that label; it was not enough to describe the enormity of my experience and the torture that my husband and I went through. And it never will be in and of itself.

 

What you can do:

Meet people where they are at and as more than their experiences. Be with them and enable them to be with you; in the fullest sense of being, non-judgementally and with acceptance. If you struggle or are talking to someone who is, or has, find out what your/their unique experience is, what helps them and what their hopes are.

 

 

5. Having (had) a mental health issue does not mean people do not, or cannot, have a good life or participate in the world.

 

People often approach mental illnesses as being a life sentence and as meaning people are incapacitated in major ways. The reality is that most people recover from or are able to manage their mental health well enough to live active and involved lives.

Everyday, and in every way, people who experience mental health issues are living full lives and are valued members of society. Some people do need to adjust the way that they do things and alter how they live well for themselves but they continue on.

It is also the case that after people become more conscious of their mental health and committed to looking after themselves, irrespective of whether they have (had) a mental illness or not, their self-understanding and the ways that they interact with other people and the world is much more meaningful and set up for them to live best.

 

What you can do:

Make room in your life and interactions with people, including yourself, to participate in ways aligned with where their health and wellness is at any particular point in time. I am a full believer in taking a mental health day from work when in a funk just like I do when I am out of sorts physically.  

 

 

6. There are things, small and big, that everyone can be doing to look after their mental health.

 

When we acknowledge that mental health is about our health and wellness overall we realise that there are things we can be doing to help ourselves no matter how well or unwell we are. We do it for our physical health without even thinking so why not for our mental health too?

 

What you can do:

Make a list of things that make you feel physically, mentally and spiritually well, from the small and mundane (eg an uninterrupted cup of tea, reading for pleasure, yoga)  to bigger more costly ideas (eg professional massage or spa treatment, retreat or holiday). Commit to doing some of these every week.

 

 

7. We need to be talking about Mental Health more often and in more ways than we currently are.

 

More space has been created over the last few years to be talking about mental health and wellness but it needs to go further. I believe that there is an individual and a social responsibility that everyone has to further the conversation and make a difference.

We can do this by: being better informed about mental health and wellness; sharing our stories; checking in with people we care about when we are worried; knowing how to be a, and access, support; and not adding to the stigma and silencing that continues. We need to be talking about mental health and wellness and become more skilled at nurturing it in ourselves and others. Age, social class, religion, education level, or political beliefs must not be barrier’s to raising the volume on this critical topic for every Australian.

 

What you can do:

Start talking about mental health with your family and friends and add in to the discussion. Do a social media post in support of targeted days or anytime you see something you agree with and want to spread. Share this post too; a simple share can be meaningful and helpful without you even knowing.

 

 

These are 7 truths I know about mental health. Let me know your thoughts via ellie[at]elliehodges.com or visit my facebook page and share your own ideas.

… with heart,

Ellie.