Mental Awareness – Let’s Talk About It!
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Mental awareness. There are so many questions revolving around this. What’s the difference between mental health and mental illness? Do we really want to talk about mental awareness? If I talk about my own mental health, are other people going to ostracize me? Will it impact my professional life? Will society accept me? What will my friends think if I share my challenges around my own mental health?
Have you had any of these thoughts? These are all things that a lot of people think about when they think of mental health. I am here to help try and normalize seeking help for mental illnesses. It’s okay to go see a therapist and if you see a psychiatrist to get medication to help equalize your brain, that’s okay too!
Let’s take away that stigma from society and normalize that talking about mental health is good practice. Think about it, we take sick days if we are not feeling good physically, but what about our mind not feeling good? Your mental health is just as important as your physical health; and realistically your spiritual health too! Something that a friend of mine wrote on her Facebook page, was that she took a mental health day from work and she loved it; in fact, her boss suggested it. That is almost unheard of in the professional world. If you feel the desire to take a day off from work for your mental health, do it.
Often times, when I chat with people about mental health, they generally think of the most extreme things, this may be because of movies painting this picture in our minds. But, did you know that anxiety and depression are under the category of mental illness? The term ‘mental illness’ has always been rooted to have a negative connotation, not just in the U.S., but globally as well. While the U.S. is becoming more accepting and attempting to decrease the stigma around mental health, it is still a battle.
Seeking help for mental health can look different for everyone. It is hard for me to share my personal experience with mental illness, with the whole world in this blog, but if I am talking about breaking this stigma, well, then I need to practice what I preach. So, here I go…I personally have anxiety, depression, and PTSD. With the help of talk therapy and anti-anxiety medication to help stabilize my brain, I am managing much more effectively than I would have without these wonderful resources. I personally have always struggled with sharing and opening up with others about my mental illnesses. Even just writing the words, ‘mental illness’ still makes me feel like I’ll be judged. I don’t like being judged AND I am breaking the stigma anyway. I was taught and learned to not show any weakness, or it will make me less desirable by romantic partners, friends, family, and even my job. Dun, dun, dun!! Heaven forbid, if my job or a desirable place of employment found out about my mental illnesses, that would ruin me, is how I felt; that was the epidemy of it all, actually. I learned at all of my jobs that if someone wasn’t able to perform their duties because of something going on mentally, that they were not employable. That is so not okay and only makes the mental illness worse and continues the vicious cycle of stigma around mental illness.
My whole life I dealt with a lot of stuff; I mean A LOT! I also learned from my life experience by watching a very near loved one battle addiction from prescribed medication. The very thing that was supposed to help this individual actually hindered them, because they abused it. It is very important to follow your doctor’s orders on how much to take. Because of seeing this and living this, I did not ever want to be on any medication for anything, ever. Because I saw it as a bad thing to be on medicine for mental illness; but I’ve learned over time, it’s simply not true. I felt stronger not taking anything; however, that left me with many years of my anxiety, depression, and PTSD getting worse. So, I sought help through talk therapy and even treatment for an eating disorder that I had since I was young. During my time in treatment, I released so much trauma from my childhood, adolescent years, and my adult life; I was starting to feel more in control of my mental health. I also had a stigma around eastern medicine due to what society told me, but I learned that it is okay to use eastern medicine such as meditation, grounding techniques, yoga, cleansing my aura and chakras etc. Now, with both eastern and western medicine combined, I am in a really good place.
I have always said that body, mind, and soul are all interconnected and tried practicing this; however, it isn’t until this year that I have really tried not caring what others think of me and this is when I finally agreed to western medicine; because my life depended on it. Literally, to keep me alive, I needed blood thinners for blood blots in my brain caused by stroke(s). I finally gave into anti-anxiety and depression medicine as well. Under doctor supervision, I had weaned off of all medications, but one. So, taking medicine doesn’t have to be forever for some of us if we don’t want it to be and if it is forever, that is okay too!
I truly believe that having these conversations about mental health with my friends, on social media, and quite honestly with my peers and supervisors at my professional places (work, internship, grad school), has really helped me feel more comfortable sharing how I’m doing. In return, my being vulnerable has helped others to share how they are doing too.
This is how we normalize mental health, by talking about it. Especially with COVID this year, I’ve learned that people are more accepting to talk about the strains that they are going through with their own mental health, because COVID just plain sucks and has affected every single human on this planet. Let’s continue to talk about this and normalize that it’s okay to have a mental illness, because our mental health matters. We need to heal our bodies, minds, and souls collectively.
Article by: Annikki Hockert (she/her/hers)
Annikki is an intern with EVOLVE’s Therapeutic Services Program.