3 things that could impact our conversation on Mental Health

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”-MLK

Mental health,  self-care, and therapy are words that we are seeing almost daily.  From the news to social media, the conversation about mental health is increasing, but is it decreasing the stigma?  Are we more educated on mental health and mental illness than ever before?  The current conversation mental health proves that there is still a lot of work to do.

On February 14, 2018 a former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and when he left, 33 people had been shot.  On February 15, 2018 news stories began telling the story of the accused gunman and words like “troubled” and “depressed” were used.  Those words gave way for many people to blame “mental health issues” for this terrible crime.  The accused gunman had never been diagnosed with a mental illness, yet many Americans believe that our mental health system failed the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that fateful day.

Despite the increased talk about it, despite celebrities opening up about going to therapy and their own diagnosis of mental health conditions, there is still a stigma that mental illness and violence go hand in hand.  In reality, most people with a mental illness are not violent.  Maybe we need to shift the conversation, get more specific and  be more inclusive.Here are three things that could impact the mental health conversation:

Differentiate Mental Health & Mental Health Conditions/ Mental Illness

To say someone has “mental health issues” is very general.  What would it mean to you if someone said they had “physical health issues”?  That could cover anything from knee pain to a terminal illness.  A Google search of the term Mental Health shows it is defined as “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”.  While a search for the term Mental Illness shows the definition to be “…a wide range of mental health conditions- disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior”. We all need to be aware of our mental health- our feelings and emotions, but only 1 out of 4 Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition/mental illness.

Broaden the discussion

Everyone has mental health and everyone can benefit from mental health education.  Self care and reducing stress is often reinforced to women.  Therapy is less likely to be presented as an option by a religious leader .  Suicide is often thought to be an issue for white Americans.  As we discuss mental health within our circles or to our targeted audiences lets include topics we don’t normally discuss.  A good example is PTSD, which is often discussed only in relation to our Military veterans; let’s extended that conversation to domestic abuse survivors.  How often do we talk about healthy ways to handle grief in urban communities and in Black families? Postpartum depression is usually only discussed with mom, but dads can suffer as well.  White men get angry, Black men get sad, having money doesn’t mean you manage your emotions well and children don’t magically grow out of the effects of trauma. Since we have started talking about it, let’s not limit the discussion.

Keep the conversation going

Talking about our mental health can get uncomfortable, which is probably why it isn’t ongoing. There is no reason we need to wait until a tragedy happens to discuss mental health, mental illness or the fractured healthcare system.  It does not need to consume our daily lives, but it should be something that we make a conscious effort to discuss, read about, and pay attention to more often.  Mental health awareness month is coming up in May and many news outlets, blogs and organizations will discuss the importance of prioritizing our mental health.  Let’s keep the conversation going until May and after May.  Let’s not wait for the next tragedy to make us talk about it again.

How you feel America is doing with the conversation about mental health and mental illness?  Are we making progress?  What can we do to really impact the stigma associated with mental illness and increase mental health awareness.

Please comment or email me your thoughts to shareyourstory@speakawaythestigma.org

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