What is Mental Health?
I like to say that I am an advocate for mental health. I believe we all are. Whether you work in the field as a counsellor, psychotherapist, social worker, nurse, psychologist, etc. or as a teacher, accountant, construction worker, or even a student. As a friend, family member, partner, classmate, colleague, pet owner, etc. we all influence the mental health of others (and ourselves). When we check in with each other, we evaluate states of mental health. When we extend our love, we support mental health. When we acknowledge another person's work, we promote mental health.
When I use the term mental health I sometimes (often) get corrected. "You mean mental illness, right?". Nope, I mean mental health. The actual state of where we are at and how we are doing with it. So what is the difference? Not much really but the distinction is important. In a way, mental illness is a level of mental health. I see it as a stage of mental health - an indicator that something is wrong and needs attention. It's a calling for change.
WHO (Mental Health Organization) recognizes mental health as the state of well-being in which we realize or acknowledge our own abilities, can cope with the normal stressors of life, and can work productively and fruitfully (Nordqvist, C., 2017). It also considers the ability to make a contribution to others (and again, ourselves)- whether this be support (mental, emotional, physical), employment / labour / volunteer, creativity, presence, connection, existence, etc. Mental health is a state of being and a position of opportunity. People with a mental illness still have mental health. People without a mental illness still have mental health. For instance, people without a mental illness can still experience a great deal of stress on a day filled with too many tasks and not enough time to complete them. People who experience anxiety can cope well and manage. It is our awareness and commitment to mental health that determines how we can (or cannot) approach the experience. This is the lesson that needs to be more accessible. Now, I am not saying that awareness would fix everything, more needs to be done. I do think that awareness can make a huge difference in our ability to understand and cope with our experiences.
When we forget about or simply overlook our mental health the risk of mental illness can increase. The most common types of mental illness are anxiety disorders (fear or anxiousness linked to certain objects or situations) and mood disorders (significant changes in mood) (Nordqvist, C., 2017). One of the best ways to prevent is to identify our limits and remember them. To respect them. It is easy to forget about something that is not talked about. You say: But Kyle, there's so much attention on mental illness these days. There's so many campaigns like Bell Let's Talk and To Write Love On Her Arms. I say: Yes - you are right, there is. However, we need to begin a new movement. We need to consider mental health before the illness. We need to take care of ourselves and each other. We are finally fighting together but when do we train for battle? How can we learn the tools and feel more prepared? Acknowledging the concept can be a great first step. Talking about it; sharing experience. We can teach students how to write an essay so why can't we teach them how to love themselves?
I am sitting here trying to recall a time during the early stages of my academic career that we discussed mental health and what it means to value self-care (actions we take to improve or maintain a healthy state of being. For example: taking walks to clear our mind, or taking a full lunch break during a busy shift). I am drawing a blank. I remember learning why I need to comply to the rules and standards, why I need a job and how I am supposed to contribute to society. I remember being trained to sell my labour and benefit those above me. I do not remember learning how to take care of myself during the process. I remember being taught to withhold my feelings, suck it up and push through because 'men don't cry'. I remember learning that my best work was not good enough unless my grade was better than the person next to me. It wasn't until I overworked myself and received a diagnosis of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) that I learned to slow down and remember what I needed. Lesson learned: I can't do my best if I am not at my best, and my best is always good enough.
We need to slow down and listen to our body and mind. We need to stop brushing it off. It is hard. It is so hard. I hear you on that. I can talk all night about why it is important but can I fully enact it in my own life? Not a chance. I am still learning. I fight because I want to learn. I fight because my mental health matters, and I fight because your mental health matters. I am starting this blog as a way to share my own progress, experience and understandings of self-care and mental health.
Let us intervene before it grows. Let the movement begin.
Okay Kyle - What do I do now?
Well, before we help others we have to help ourselves.
TRY THIS OUT:
The first step is taking a moment to acknowledge where you are at. I came across this interesting 'Mental Health Metre' (https://cmha.ca/mental-health-meter) that can help begin the thought.
Reflect on what makes you happy, what makes you stressed. How often are you feeling great about yourself and your life? How often are you feeling down about yourself or your life? What is the smallest first step that you can take towards bettering your mental health?
TRY THIS OUT:
Take a moment to consider your efforts. Consider what you are good at. Consider what you enjoy about yourself. Write them down. I challenge you to only write positive things. Try for 5. Was that easy? Try 5 more. Keep going if you want. Now set this aside. Set a reminder in your phone, on a post-it, whatever works for you because I want you to come back and read this list in 2 days. When you read it over, what stands out to you the most? What can you do to bring more of these things to your day-to-day life? Self-care means caring about yourself. Use this list to do more of what makes you happy, no matter how small that thing may be.
Well folks - that's it for now! I hope that this provides at least a small ounce of thought and room for reflection. I invite you to share your thoughts if you wish.
Kyle Karalash, M.Sc., CCC., RP
Nordqvist, C. (2017, August 24). Mental health: Definition, common disorders, and early signs. Retrieved August 2, 2018, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154543.php