May is Mental Health Month and the perfect time to address a topic that is very near to my heart. Mental health is no different than physical health and just as important. For a very long time, our culture has been dismissive of psychology and therapy favoring a let's sweep in under the rug attitude toward mental illness and I couldn't be happier that's finally starting to change. At the very least, we are seeing positive movement in the right direction.
I don't know about you, but this idea that it's all "in your head" is immensely frustrating. Telling someone that it's all in their head implies weakness or that they can somehow mind over matter the whole situation and everything will be fine. I'm going to get real with you for a moment here.
When I was in high school, I suffered from bouts of very severe, clinical depression. I practiced self harm and also struggled with disordered eating, but my dad didn't believe in therapy. He was absolutely convinced that I was acting out, or needed attention and that if I could just "snap out of it" and "put my mind to it", I would be cured. But that's the thing. Mental illness isn't a weakness or personal failing. It doesn't indicate that you lack character. Often, it is the result of trauma or a chemical imbalance or biology, NOT a lack of tenacity.
Luckily for me,my mother did believe in therapy and, although I never got support from my dad, I got treatment and medication which helped me immensely. To this day, I struggle with sometimes debilitating anxiety, but I continue to learn new ways of coping and have built an amazing support system. Not every day is a good day, and that's ok.
If you are struggling or suspect you might be struggling with mental illness, please visit Mental Health America for a free mental health screening. You can also visit Better Help, an online counseling service that offers unlimited 24/7 communication with a licensed health care professional. They offer financial assistance services for those who need it and you can get a free week when you sign up using my link.
If someone you care about is struggling with mental illness, here are a few helpful do's and don'ts. First, don't tell them to "calm down" or "chill out". Chances are they can't simply control what they are feeling and maybe even how they are responding. As I said before, this isn't about weakness or personal failing. Second, don't imply that they are "crazy" or "over reacting". Don't make them feel inadequate or less than, because chances are, they already feel that way or have felt that way and what they really need is your support.
So, what should you do? First, listen. Brene Brown has an excellent video on empathy that poignantly illustrates the power of listening and offering support. Second, ask them how you can help. Sometimes we just need to know that someone has our back. Lastly, encourage them to talk to a professional. Let them know that there is absolutely no shame in talking to a doctor, counselor, or therapist about what they are feeling and how they are struggling.
The very best thing we can do is destigmatize mental health. Start the conversation, share the resources, be the support, and reach out if you or a loved one is struggling. Mental health is every bit as important as physical health. Depression and anxiety are every bit as real as asthma and the flu. Remember, May in Mental Health month and it's up to us to spread the word.
I'm a blogger and educator breaking through stigmas and helping women find their voice.