How’s your state of mental health? Ponder this for a moment.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it has been since (in the U.S.A) 1949. This month is observed with media, local events, and film screenings and it’s run by the Mental Health America organization.

But if you ask me in the time of COVID, 24/7 news media cycle and social media, every month should be mental health awareness month.

Outside of wars and economic depressions, I cannot remember a time in my history (I’m 51 years old) where people’s mental health has taken a beating like it has now.

What Is It?

The World Health Organization (WHO), defines mental health as  

“a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community”

Mental health includes everything from your emotional, psychological, and social well-being to how you think, feel, and act. Plus, it determines how you handle stress, your personal relationships and whether you make good or bad choices.

 Many factors contribute to this, including:

·     Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry

·     Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse

·     Family history of mental health problems (1)

Although some aspects of mental health are in your control, some are not.

The Difference Between Mental Illness and Health 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines mental illness as “conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior.” Some examples are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and now autism spectrum disorder.

While mental health is not labeled a condition per se but is more a sense of your total wellbeing. But like most things there’s a lot of grey area in between.  

Christopher M. Palmer, MD, director of McLean’s Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education, says mental health and mental illness are like the concepts of physical health and physical illness.

“It’s not all or nothing.

The term ‘mental health’ implies the absence of illness or disorder. But there are many ways people can be mentally healthy or ill, like there are many ways to be physically healthy or unwell.”  Says Palmer (2)

There are people with poor mental health who haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness and people who do have a diagnosed mental illness but still experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.

That’s because mental illnesses can happen occasionally or at irregular intervals.  Meaning there are times of ill-health and times of better health. For example, having a temporary bout of mental illness, like depression after a divorce.

There are crossovers between the two but one important difference also.

My State Of Mental Health

To be upfront, I’ve never suffered from a mental illness or treated people who have one. But I’ve got my own issues which drove me to seek therapy which has helped me tremendously.   

However, mental illness runs in my family and it continues to play a role in my life. The list below is not a woe is me moment, but a list of people closest to me who are suffering or have suffered from mental illness.  

· I suspect my father suffered from bipolar before he passed away over 28 years ago.  

· My brother has suffered from bipolar since the early 90’s and has tried to take his own life on multiple occasions. Once I had to talk him out of killing himself. That was rough.

· Almost two years ago a friend of mine took his own life without warning because of depression.   

· When my parents divorced it was extremely tough of my mum because my father put her through a living hell.

· My son is in the autism spectrum and he is battling his own mental demons.

Mental illness has played a role in my life since childhood and because of this, now my own mental health is taking a beating. Probably played a role with my issues too.

As selfish as this sounds, other people’s mental illness has taken a toll on my own mental health.

In no way do I want to discount their suffering or make it about me when it’s clearly about them. I’m saying it takes a personal toll when you’re around people who suffer from mental illness.

But my suffering is minuscule in comparison to the people on the frontlines or those who are battling it.

How’s Your Mental Health?

Like checking your weight, there needs to be times when you check in with yourself, to see how you’re doing. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Tired, stressed or losing your temper? Or are you making poor choices and have no idea why.

Being honest with yourself is a difficult step to make but a necessary one if your behavior is hurting yourself, others, or both.

Your mental health should be treated like your physical health. Going to a therapist, having you time, engaging in self-care or something similar should be treated like going to the gym.

No big deal.

Not everyone needs or can afford to see a therapist. But everyone needs someone to talk to express what’s going on in their head. We often feel we are the only ones suffering but when you know someone else` who is going through something similar, it helps.

Words matter, what we say matters and it helps to realize you’re not the only one.

Wrapping Up

It’s terrible when you realize you cannot help a loved one (or yourself) with their mental illness or health. But do you know what’s worse?

When they cannot help themselves. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. That’s why kindness, love, compassion, and empathy are so important. It’s a struggle to show this but the alternative is much worse.

In fact, in the past year or so, I think we’ve seen it.

If you or a friend is struggling, here are some numbers to call

·   The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.): 1-800-273-8255

·   Crisis Text Line (U.S.): Text “START” to 741741

·   Veterans Crisis Line (U.S.): 1-800-273-8255, press 1


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