Mental health is not a fixed thing.
Just like physical health, it can fluctuate. And just like physical disease, mental illness can visit any of us at any stage of our lives. None of us is immune to this possibility.
Maybe this deep-seated knowledge is the reason for the great stigma and sense of shame that hovers around this issue.
The fact is, that any of us who makes it all the way through this life unscathed in the mental health department—especially in this age of high stress levels—can consider ourselves to be inordinately blessed. But I think, in the developed world at any rate, that adults who have never experienced a challenge to their mental health are few and far between.
Mental illness is a perfectly common experience and comes in a variety of forms—both acute and chronic conditions—in much the same way as physical illness does. But while there are a few physical illnesses that still carry a stigma, all forms of mental illness seem to be shrouded in taboo.
The stigma instills shame in those who suffer, who are then afraid to ask for help. It leads to hiding the disease and so it gets worse. And the fear and shame further fuel the stigma, while the stigma leads to ignorance, misunderstanding and intolerance. It’s all a vicious circle and it hurts us all in the long run.
Because someday—if not now—mental illness may be part of our own life experience.
And when that day comes, we need to be able to recognize it in ourselves or our loved ones. We also need to know how we can start the process of recovery.
The way to break the stigma is to normalize the condition.
Reassure people who are hurting that it does not make them a freak. Because, there but for the grace of God/The Universe/Infinite Spirit/Sheer Bloody Good Luck goes each and every one of us.
None of us comes with a life-long guarantee of full health. Some of us are born with illness that may be temporary or may be life-long challenges. For those of us lucky enough to be born in full health, we should be grateful for the blessing. We have been given a good starting point and it is up to us, as guardians of our children and as independent adults, to maintain and protect that health.
Equally, it is up to each of us to work towards a society that does not shy away from examining mental illness—in all its shapes and forms—and all of its far-reaching effects on those who suffer and those who live with, work with and love those who suffer.
We need to talk about it, openly and honestly. And we need to listen to those who are living with the torment of darkness.
We need to be able to recognize when our own lights start to dim because, like physical illness, mental illness can creep up on us slowly, becoming progressively worse when the early signs aren’t detected and treated.
And by “treated” I don’t necessarily mean with medication, although that can be part of the treatment for some. Diet, exercise and lots of other self-care practices can help restore us to wellness, especially during the early stages of illness.
We all need education and awareness around the issues. And we need to understand the vital importance of having our own self-care practices.
What do you do—regularly—to maintain or improve your health? Prevention is better than cure, so prioritize that in your life and the lives of those in your care.
But cure is necessary too. So, support those who are doing trojan work helping people to find their way out of darkness.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi
Be the light in the darkness. Bring this topic wide out into the open.
Mental health is everybody’s concern, so let’s stop being afraid to talk about it. Let’s explode this taboo.
Author: Hilda Carroll
Editor: Renee Jahnke
Photo: Len Matthews/Flickr