Tag Archives: mental wellness

It’s Not Always A Mental Illness!

7 Jul

I have worked in the mental health field for twenty-three years. I know the terrain extremely well. And although I am grateful that public knowledge of mental illness has increased, I grow weary when I frequently hear every societal problem attributed to mental illness.

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Not everything is a mental illness!

Sometimes we’re distraught because we’re going through something tough. Perhaps a death in the family, a divorce, or job loss triggers a challenging period. Or maybe we’re anxious because we haven’t learned to manage stress well and we’re going through significant life changes without much social support. These types of things greatly influence mood state and to a certain degree are a regular part of life. Human beings suffer terribly and we are all challenged by how to develop resiliency.

I invite us to consider the concept of mental wellness. How do we learn to function whether we’re ever given a mental health diagnosis or not? We all need to address mental wellness no different than we look after our physical health.

Mental health exists along a continuum. It is comparable to physical health. For instance, if I have a runny nose, am fatigued, and don’t feel well, I meet the criteria for a cold. After two weeks, when the symptoms have cleared, I no longer have the diagnosis. But if I have diabetes or a heart condition, I might have the diagnosis my entire life and then I learn to manage the symptoms. Mental illness is no different. Sometimes we’re given a diagnosis at one point in our lives but later, we may no longer meet criteria. With another illness, the diagnosis might persist. Or, we may never meet criteria for a diagnosis. Nonetheless, we still need to develop basic coping skills and to manage our emotions and stress in a healthy manner.

Contrary to popular belief, mental illness isn’t the root cause of all sociological problems. It is actually the other way around. Sociological problems can put people at risk for developing mental illness. There are only a cluster of diagnoses whose etiologies are based in pure biology and genetics. More often than not, mental illnesses emerge from a combination of factors such as trauma, genetic predisposition, environment, social isolation, family dynamics, relationship ruptures, abandonment, and abuse, etc.

If we want to reduce mental illness statistics, we also need to address bigger cosmic factors that contribute to it. We have to stop pointing fingers at “mental illness” as the cause for all and start looking at the impact of how we treat our fellow humans. TLC goes a long way in influencing mental wellness. So does social justice.

On the same token, just because we have risk factors doesn’t mean we’ll develop a mental illness. Likewise, even if we aren’t exposed to primary risk factors, we could still be vulnerable to developing a diagnosis. We could have all the support and advantages in the world and still live with schizophrenia or severe depression. Mental wellness is a complex issue because we humans are complex. We’re a unique blend of body, spirit, intellect, and emotions. We all have different temperaments and life experiences.

Finally, one of the greatest mythologies about mental health is that people with mental illness are all violent. It has become very vogue to explain every catastrophic event that occurs as a by-product of mental illness. If a crime is committed, we immediately assume the perpetrator had a mental illness. If a child or teen acts out, he or she must have a mental illness. Because who in his or her right mind would commit a crime if sane, right? Well, crimes are committed all the time by people who do not have a diagnosis. In fact, only four percent of gun homicides can be attributed to those with a mental illness. What then compels people to violence? Why do we hurt each other? Is it greed, entitlement, poor impulse control, no moral compass, ignorance, or evil? Who knows. But not everything is caused by mental illness alone.

But one thing is certain. We can all work on our mental wellness. We can challenge ourselves to engage in basic acts of self care. Exercise, get enough sleep, breathe, socialize, and relax. Explore feelings and get in touch with our inner selves. See a therapist or join a support group. Laugh. Reach out to others. Connect to something that endows life with meaning. Because we all need to feel like we have a purpose and like we’re in relation to others. That part isn’t rocket science. It’s fundamental to humanity.

 

 

For Some, For Others, For YOU….

19 Sep

I have a colleague who often self-discloses about a traumatic car accident she had when she was sixteen. Hit by a drunk driver, she almost died. It took months for her physical injuries to heal and significantly longer for her psychological scars to heal. She was afraid to drive and became increasingly isolated. Distraught, she asked her mother, “When will I be normal again?” Her mother looked at her and quietly said, “For some, for others, for you.”

What a beautiful way to conceptualize healing and recovery. There is no cookie cutter formula for getting better and there is no specific timetable either. My colleague’s mother was basically saying that normal might as well be a setting on a dryer.

The best thing we can do when coping with trauma – (aka life) – is to approach our process with curiosity and compassion rather than judgment. Instead of asking, “Why am I not over this YET?!!!!”, we can instead ask, “What is still hurting that needs love and attention? What do I have yet to learn from this irritation and sting? How can I soothe the pain and transform it into something of beauty that affirms my life versus negates it? How can I help myself, and in helping myself, help others?”

Although we can begrudge winter and wish it away, nature never adheres to our pleas for summer. On the day we curse the snow and chill, Nature typically shows no mercy. The frigid air remains. Yet in her own time, she rewards our patience with miracles.

Although all our lives are unique, the themes of death and transformation are universal. Snow melts and Spring explodes in splendor. The roads clear and the driving conditions improve.

Eventually, we feel like driving again. We find the courage and the desire to get behind the wheel, heading out on the lone country road. We might not know where we’re headed or whether we’ll pick up any passengers, but we are indeed in the driver’s seat once more.

It is always the journey and not the destination that matters. And taking the road less travelled is often the most exquisite ride.

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Who wants to stay stuck in traffic looking at a view of Target and WallMart? Why not take a much more glorious highway or side road while ditching the GPS?

For some, for others, and most important, for YOU.