Today I want to talk some more about, what I believe, is a great need for us to start valuing our mental health just as much as our physical health – not just as individuals, but as a society.
I was inspired to write this post after reading another blog post at NerdFitness.com. It is a humorous take on the confusing world of “healthy eating”, and it really got me thinking about how a lot of people seem motivated to make positive changes in their life, if they know it will affect their physical health or appearance. It made me wonder yet again, “Why is there not the same motivation to make positive changes for our mental health? And from there, I started wondering “Why does it seem to be okay to turn ourselves inside out and openly obsess about the desire to be physically healthy and attractive, but if we start talking about wanting to improve our mental health…..we often get labelled as kookie, crazy, damaged or weird?”
Shouldn’t it kind of be the other way around? Granted, we have come a long way in the last century in regard to the way we view mental health. But even so, it seems to me that we as a society are still spending too much time wading in the shallow end of the pool.
If I see an article on a popular news website about the best fast food menu items out there, there will be hundreds, if not thousands of comments from people talking about how “disgusting” or “toxic” fast food is and they would never “put that crap in my body”. As a mom of 5 and a frequent flier at the McDonald’s Drive-Thru, with 2 junk drawers full of useless Happy Meal Toys in my house (I’m not proud of it), I can imagine throngs of noses looking down on me as I confess my dirty little secret of once a week tossing hamburgers and french fries to my kids in the back seat of my minivan like bean bags.
And never once have I seen a comment on an article about people working too many hours and not getting enough sleep that had a million comments at the end that snootily said “I would NEVER subject myself to that horrible kind of stress. Do you know how mentally toxic that would be? As if I would ever put myself through that.”
Granted, obesity is running rampant through our country, and cancer and diabetes are still affecting so many people every year. I can see the need for a physically healthier lifestyle and there is nothing wrong with wanting to look more attractive. I just don’t think that it should be so much more common than putting effort into creating an emotionally healthier lifestyle for ourselves.
I don’t think we should be so self-congratulatory about all the good things we do about our physical health – proudly posting our selfies and reporting the stats of every tread mill run and all the pounds we have lost this month, but at the same time be so afraid of being stigmatized that we are too embarrassed to give ourselves a pat on the back for the mental health strides we make.
For example, I would never go on Facebook and say “Yay me! I only checked my stove knobs FOUR TIMES last night! That’s progress!” Even though I am totally out of the “anxiety and OCD closet”, I still wouldn’t post that out of fear that people would make the “Yeeks” face to themselves and think I was an oddball.
Maybe I am not as unashamed as I thought I was? I am going to have to work on that.
Physical health information is everywhere! You can’t get through the day without seeing an article or website or a TV show or infomercial about improving the physical body’s health and appearance. From cholesterol to fat to wrinkles to crepey skin to big muscles. It’s everywhere. Because that is where the demand lies. I think we should be demanding more information about mental health too.
Everybody says they want to be happier. I hear that all the time – “I just want to be happy.”
But we are looking for it in all the wrong places. I know it sounds so cliché, but I believe the real secret to happiness, or at least a feeling of contentment, which is what I personally think we should be striving for, lies in investing in and taking care of your emotional health. We need to start promoting and encouraging that idea.
Mental health resources should be all over and readily available. When I lived in my former town, there were 5 nail salons within a 2 mile radius of my house as well as a 24 hour Planet Fitness right around the corner AND a Weight Watchers. If you wanted to lose weight, get in shape, or fix a nail, you were in. However, when I tried to find a grief support group after my mother died ten years ago, I had to make about 20 phone calls before I could track one down. I’m not kidding you when I say that at the places I called: doctor’s offices, the funeral homes – even the counselor offices…people sounded like they had no idea what a grief support group even was. I finally found one at a church but I never went because now I felt like such an oddball for wanting to go, that I didn’t want to go anymore!
Why is there no Grief Watchers? Where is it? I am not kidding you – I would go! I would love to find some wonderful group of people who were also grieving that I could spend one hour a week with and vent and share my feelings until I felt I could really put it behind me and move forward. And then I would volunteer at the meetings and be there for the next round of people who needed comfort and support. Why don’t we live in a world where THAT sort of thing is the norm?
I am not at all trying to trivialize or make light of grief or anybody’s mental health issues. I just think that it is so ridiculous that we ALL have issues and probably all of us are in need of some support or some kind of help….whether its professional help or just more of a community support type of help…. but here most of us are, walking around taking selfies of ourselves every 5 minutes so we can show the world how “happy” and “normal” we are because we hate the thought of anybody thinking we might be anything less than “normal”. The world seems to tell us “People who aren’t normal are weird. Weird is bad”.
Well, I say screw that. This weirdo thinks that we all need to rise up and make our voices louder, and be open and honest about who we are and demand from each other and from our country and our media that mental health be given more attention and more of a place in our society.
I know, I know. Easier said than done. And I know that some people truly don’t feel emotionally able to do that and, of course, that is okay. But it in a perfect world, that is what I imagine.
And let me just add here, that back in my day some of the people getting stigmatized were the people taking the selfies! There WERE no selfies back then because nobody wanted to be thought of as “vain” or “conceited”. If anybody had caught us taking a picture of ourselves, we would have had to change schools out of sheer mortification. Who or what started this movement of being so obsessed with showing the world how “pretty” we are? Is it true vanity? Are we really this proud of ourselves? Or is this all just stemming from a world full of really insecure people who need compliments in order to feel good about themselves?
I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be nice if twenty years from now, taking care of our mental health and inner beauty was what we took pride in and bragged about and being so “appearance focused” went back to being a negative again?
There are probably hundreds of millions of people in this world living with mental health issues. They are everywhere and it should be a part of our dialogue as a nation and as a people. There are those of us living with anxiety disorders, Bi-Polar disorder, and OCD, and other disorders or mental illnesses who feel like they can’t be open and talk about it because it is so rarely addressed except on mental health specific websites. Look at all of our veterans with PTSD who don’t know how to cope with it or where to go to get help. They are coming home being told what heroes they are and feeling as though they would be letting people down by admitting they are struggling with very real and serious emotional issues because mental health is just not something you talk about. They are having difficulty integrating back into their own lives. Can you imagine how hard that must be? The suicide rate for veterans is around 20 a day and it seems we just keep sweeping it under the rug. Shame on all of us.
But it’s not just people with an actual diagnosis I am talking about. I am also talking about people who just feel down a lot, or seem to lose their temper easily, or have a hard time coping with day-to-day stress, or feel inferior compared to their colleagues or friends. I mean do you know ANYBODY who seems to have it all together and like they couldn’t benefit from making some positive changes for their mental health? I don’t. With so many people living with mental health issues, shouldn’t this be part of the day-to-day discussion in this country? Shouldn’t it be everywhere just as much as information about physical health is?
But it’s not.
I find it almost laughable that there is such a stigma against people who do qualify for an actual mental health diagnosis. I don’t think that a lot of the “normals” out there are as far removed from that realm as they like to think they are. I believe mental health issues are a problem that affect each and every one of us to some degree, either first hand or through somebody they love, and I think that we all need to wake up and start showing some interest in the subject.
There are things we can do to live better….to be content. There are ways to manage stress and try to bring a little balance into our world. Not every person in this world has the luxury of being able to make their mental health better. Those of us that do have that luxury should be thanking our lucky stars and feeling motivated to continually educate ourselves on all the options we have, and putting some of those options into play. The thought of finding new ways to live better should be exciting to us.
I do think there is a movement in the right direction in that department though.
I am starting to see more articles about mental health related topics, although few of them are on main stream news websites, but it’s a start.
And I think that we are starting to realize that educating people about mental health from a young age, can really impact future generations for the better. I am seeing a push for schools to start including mental health topics in their curriculums. My own 13-year-old brought home a workbook about mental health that he used in class for a special “Life Class” type week at school. I was ELATED when I saw it.
I recently read an article about offering children meditation as opposed to punishment when they acted out at school. It made my heart sing. THIS is the kind of thing we need.
At the same time, we have so much work still to do. I wish we could all snap out of whatever denial we are living in, and realize that we have one life to live on this Earth. That is it. Regardless of what we think is going to happen after we die….shouldn’t we try to make our life here on Earth the very best it can possibly be? Not just our physical health, not just the appearance of our life….not the decorations…….I’m talking about our actual life.
Let’s put our focus on living better…not just living longer. We don’t have to be this nation of stressed out, angry, unsatisfied people who are looking for happiness in all the wrong places. Those of us with mental health diagnosis don’t have to walk around feeling like “less thans”. We can do better than this for ourselves and each other. We ARE better than this and we all deserve better.
Motivation is a big factor in creating any kind of positive change in our lives, so I am sharing this great little post from Zen Habits for some motivational inspiration.
Let me know what you think in the comments below, and give me a follow to be notified of future posts!
HelpGuide.org has a great article that discusses ways to make improvements to your mental and emotional health. It’s a good read so if you get a chance, check it out.