October 6th – 12th is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Today, we’re breaking down the finer details of mental health. Our hope is that we can encourage a deeper understanding of what mental health is and start chipping away at the stigma.
What is Stigma?
Stigma is when you mentally attach shame to a person or group and this perception causes you to devalue or treat them differently. People with a mental health condition are often stigmatized because they are often perceived as different or not within whatever definition of “normal” we each carry.
It’s not uncommon to feel like we need to distance ourselves from what is unfamiliar. Maybe we just aren’t sure how to approach or talk to someone with a mental illness. The hope is that by learning a little more, this unfamiliar territory will become less intimidating and we can start to understand that people with mental health concerns are simply, people.
Changing the Perception
If, like many others, you find uncertainty in your interactions with those who suffer from a mental illness, consider that mental health does not fit a single definition or appearance.
In fact, there are a lot of mental disorders whose symptoms you can’t see! Even if you can see the symptoms, they can still be expressed differently among people with the same diagnosis.
Let’s consider, for a moment, the loss of a loved one. For some, the grief is relived as though the loss occurred mere days ago. For others, it can be a more peaceful remembrance.
Grief is not typically our first thought when we consider mental health. Often, we’ll think of disorders or illnesses whose names we hear often: ADHD, OCD, Depression, Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, Autism, and others.1 However, the way we mentally process grief, and the way grief manifests itself in the body, (like physical exhaustion, digestive problems, stomach ulcers, etc.)2 is a great reminder that the experience is very impactful and very real. You do not need to have a diagnosable condition in order to experience the effects of atypical mental health.
Mental health encompasses everything from everyday stress, sadness, and anxiety to diagnosable conditions like Major Depressive Disorder and PTSD. When you consider that everyone has a brain, and that brain has the potential to overreact or underreact, it’s a lot easier to think of fluctuations in mental wellness as a very normal thing.
What About People Who Attend Therapy?
Therapy isn’t only for people with a mental illness, or a specified “problem.” It can be beneficial to almost anyone.
Let’s redefine therapy so it’s not exclusive to the treatment of a disorder and think about it in the sense that it is a way to care for your mental health. We always talk about protecting and healing the body, but our mind is equally in need of care.
For example, therapy can help people address thoughts as simple as these:
- I got a bad grade on a paper this semester. I am a horrible student and should probably quit school.
- My significant other didn’t put an emoji in this text message. He/she/they is angry with me!
- I am bad at basketball; therefore, I am bad at all sports.
These are all examples of cognitive distortions, or irrational thought processes. These thoughts are not so out of the ordinary. We’ve all had a moment of panic at some point and determined we were bound to encounter the worst-case scenario. Moments like these are helpful to remind us that changes in mental health affect everyone.
Ways to Care for Mental Health
Therapy is great when some guidance is preferred. However, caring for your mental health can take many forms. It can be that you do more or less of things like:
- Getting some sunshine
- Playing video games
- Spending time with people whose company you enjoy
- Taking some time alone
Addressing the stigma starts with taking a moment to examine our own feelings about mental illness. Once you know where you stand, you’ll also know what questions you have and which blank spaces you need filled. Allow yourself some time this week to talk about it with others, to do some research, or to simply do some self-reflection.
To hear from Rachel Robins, Manager of PR and External Relations at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), read her post on How Fitness Improved My Mental Health. Or, learn more by listening to our NAMI Podcast or our podcast dedicated to Mental Health Month. To access our monthly blog post highlights, subscribe to our newsletter today!
- Grohol, John M. “Mental Disorders & Conditions – DSM5.” Psych Central, 18 July 2019, psychcentral.com/disorders/.
- Byrne, Jennifer. “Biological & Psychological Effects After the Death of a Spouse.” Healthfully, 10 Jan. 2019, healthfully.com/233023-biological-psychological-effects-after-a-death-of-a-spouse.html.