I want to kick off May’s Mental Health Awareness Month with a truth bomb: our approach to mental health is broken. I say that as a clinical psychologist who has been in practice since 2007.
Inadequate mental healthcare isn’t a new thing – I’ve said for eons that we need to teach basic psychological education and skills starting in kindergarten. The difference now is that COVID shined a giant spotlight on just how not ok things are, and people are willing to have conversations now.
I’ll take it.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
Think about how many times you’ve heard that exercise and eating habits are critical for your long-term health and longevity. How many yearly check ups have you or your children gone to make sure that everything is healthy, developing as expected, and to head off potential problems early on?
When it comes to physical health, we’re taught to eat leafy greens and limit junk food. We’re taught that our bodies need cardio and strength training and stretching and good sleep. We’re taught to recognize and watch out for early signs of heart attack and stroke.
In other words, we spend a lot of time and resources on prevention, trying to head problems off before they escalate.
We don’t do the same thing when it comes to mental health.
Rethinking Mental Health to Reduce Stigma
If I’m being completely open and honest with you, I don’t even like the term “mental health.” To me, it separates out mental health as something different, something other, and that perpetuates stigma. Instead, we need to talk about health in a comprehensive way that includes mind AND body. The distinction between them truly is arbitrary. (For example, for a sizable chunk of people, depression is actually the result of inflammation in the body; a mindfulness practice has empirically been shown to reduce or affect biological responses; chronic stress raises your risk for cardiovascular disease). If there’s a line between mental and physical health, it is blurry at best. To act as though mental health and physical health are somehow fundamentally different is not only inaccurate, but also incredibly problematic.
We don’t bat an eye at going to the doctor when we break a foot or have allergies, but we get squeamish about seeking help for anxiety or depression. We somehow look at those latter experiences as a sign that we are broken, flawed, that something is wrong with us. The reality is that we are just human, and human beings have human brains that aren’t designed to thrive in our modern worlds.
A Call to Action
I implore you to shift your thinking when it comes to mental health. We need to consider prevention and optimization, just like we do with our bodies. And, if you’re already on board with that view, fantastic! Let’s continue the conversations that mental health IS health. Let’s crush stigma, and let’s get creative about ways to prevent and provide early, effective intervention for mental health difficulties.
It’s way past time that we got serious about optimizing our mental health. It’s time that we dedicate resources and efforts to building psychological strength, implementing lifestyle habits and practices that support mental health and psychological wellbeing. Stay tuned this month as we talk about how.
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.”
We are pleased to co-host an incredible event starting May 10, 2022. The FREE virtual Self-Care Summit features 7 days of powerful learning provided by some of the leading teachers, experts, and professionals in all areas of self-care and wellbeing. Register now at www.peakmindpsychology.com/selfcaresummit.
We have another incredible event in May, the first ever Humanity at Work Conference hosted by A Deeper Way. Participate in this powerful virtual self-development May 18-20. Peak Mind co-founders will be leading an impactful session on boundaries. Get your ticket at www.peakmindpsychology.com/conference.