The Stigma Around Caring for Your Mental Health

Written by Andrea Thaxton

Overwhelmed.  Stressed.  Depressed.  Burned-out.  Giving up.  Throwing in the towel.  These are all terms people frequently use to describe their lives or how they are feeling.  For some people, this may be a more frequent occurrence than others.  They are all interconnected to one very prominent subject:  Mental Health.  <gasp!> “Did she just say, ‘mental health?’”  Yes I did.

Mental health is one of those subjects that people often shy away from.  It is such a personal topic and affects everyone differently.  The topic is often avoided because it makes others uncomfortable to discuss.  However, we need to pay more attention to our mental health.  Poor mental health is quickly becoming an epidemic in America.  Americans consume a vast majority of the world’s antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and other drugs often associated with mental illnesses.  Even with education around mental health illnesses, there is still a stigma attached to a diagnosis.  Many individuals feel that having a mental illness is a sign of weakness and try to tough it out on their own.  But ignoring the problem does not make it go away.  Poor mental health will soon start impacting an individual’s physical health as well with achiness, headaches, weight gain or weight loss, and a decreased immune system.

Dr. David Clayman simplified it during a presentation I was fortunate to attend in 2009.  He compared having a mental illness to having a physical illness.  A patient with high blood pressure or a heart condition cannot simply “get over it” without proper treatment.  You will never see someone look at a heart patient and say, “Oh, toughen up and get over it.”  No.  They work with their doctor or medical professional to find a treatment and a medication that is right for them.  “I take a blood pressure pill every day and no one questions it,” Dr. Clayman said.  “Some patients need to take other pills every day.  Whether it treats physical or mental illnesses should make no difference.”

However, treating mental health goes beyond medication.  We must care for our emotional health.  As previously mentioned, poor mental health or emotional health have the capability to affect all other aspects of our lives, even our physical health.  Caring for our mental and emotional health is particularly important before it escalates into something larger.

Some countries and businesses recognize the importance of positive mental health and have taken steps to make allowances for people to care for themselves.  Those employees have been provided with sick days which cover physical AND mental health illnesses.  A friend I made at YWCA World Council from Singapore recently took some time off work in order to focus on herself and recover from what was termed “compassion fatigue.”  I was shocked to learn that compassion fatigue is a real diagnosis that is considered a secondary traumatic stress.  People working in high stress jobs (such as direct service position which many YWCA’s have) often suffer from undiagnosed compassion fatigue and other ailments.  The treatment?  A great place to start is often the simplest place to start.  Regular exercise, healthy eating habits, enjoyable social activities, restful sleep, and meditation are all ways to help treat compassion fatigue and other forms of emotional distress which, if left untreated, could lead to mental illness.

Ideally, I would like to see more organizations across the globe recognize the importance of good mental and emotional health.  I would like to see bosses be supportive of their employees if they have to take a mental health day to rid themselves of some unnecessary stress and recharge their life batteries.

So, enjoy that glass of wine, take in the beautiful scenery around you, take a deep breath, and relax.  It’s good for your health.

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