September was suicide awareness month and it was lovely to see all the advocacy on social media. People are getting loud about mental health and it’s so wonderful! I’d like to share something that broke my heart.

I logged on to Twitter one day and the first post I saw was of a man who was mourning two of his friends. He had attached a picture of them and they looked so happy and vibrant. I later came to learn the two girls were best friends. They had died by suicide barely two months apart. Have you ever mourned people you didn’t know? That was me.

I didn’t know who the two girls were but their deaths touched me. I checked the Twitter account of one of the girls– the one who had just died and a day to her passing, she had posted that she felt like she was going to give in to the voices in her head telling her to end her life. She had been battling severe depression and also grieving the death of her best friend. I was saddened. I wished she had confided in someone. But it was too late.

I checked the comment section of her suicide post (which was a cry for help) and I was now maddened by the responses. There were mean comments under her post like; “Get over it” “Go through with it” “You’re selfish for wanting to end your life” “You’re crazy” “Stop seeking attention” “Try and be happy” “You aren’t doing enough to be happy” – which only spoke to a greater problem – that we still don’t understand how intricate and important mental health is.

As we commemorate Mental Illness Awareness week in October, let us open ourselves to learning and unlearning about mental health. In this series, we will define what mental health is, mental illnesses and how to take care of our mental health. Make sure you read all the blog posts in October.

What is the difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness?

The World Health Organization describes mental health as, “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Mental health is not merely the absence of a mental illness or disorder and should not be reduced to that. It’s about how we think, process emotions, create meaningful relationships, socialize with others, earn a living, live purposefully, and enjoy life. Every one of us has mental health.

Mental health and mental health illnesses may look similar but are not to be used interchangeably. Mental health is about the overall wellbeing of an individual while mental illness is a disorder that affects moods, thinking, and behavior and requires management through treatment and/or therapy. A mental illness can come from abuse, trauma, brain chemistry, and a family history of mental illness.

Poor mental health does not mean one has a mental illness however persistent poor mental health can lead to a mental illness. We’ve all had poor mental health at some point because of our everyday life stressors but it doesn’t mean we have a mental illness. People with a mental illness may have poor mental health.

There are many factors that determine our levels of mental health. These variables contribute to how healthy we are emotionally, psychologically and socially, and they include:

  1. Individual factors: abilities, self-esteem, how we view ourselves, skills, lifestyle, life events and physical health.
  2. Family factors: upbringing, parenting style, taught values, relationship with parents, parental health, biological history of mental health, family structure, and home environment.
  3. Learning environmental factors: relationship with peers and educators, engagement with learning, learning environment, and atmosphere.
  4. Community factors: the neighborhood, social networks and communal environment.
  5. Societal factors: equity, equality, policies, work, gender discrimination, social structures, expectations, violence, socioeconomic status, political atmosphere, and culture.

One or all of the above factors can affect our mental health and any one of us can have poor mental health. For example, facing racial discrimination and inequality continually exposes BIPOC to mental health struggles and makes them more vulnerable than their white counterparts. A child being bullied in school or their learning environment puts them at risk of developing depression or dying by suicide. Being away from social interactions in the past year in a pandemic has led to many people developing social anxiety.

Busting Mental Health Myths

Myths only harm the conversations surrounding mental health because they are untrue. Unfortunately, these myths are deeply rooted in culture and upbringing so unlearning them may take a while. For example many communities fail to recognize mental health struggles as points of concern that need care and dismiss them as spiritual or personal weaknesses.

The media also plays a huge role in shaping how we view mental health. For the longest time, people with mental health issues were labeled as psychos, lunatics, crazies, weirdos, insane, dumb, freaks, outcasts, etc. – and these words still ring true in some TV shows, albeit in passing or humor, their effects linger in our minds and makes us think of mental health in a negative light.

Prejudice (negative attitudes) + Discrimination (negative responses) = STIGMA

The following are myths and facts about both mental health and mental illnesses/struggles/disorders.

         Myth Fact
1. Mental health issues only affect women Mental health issues are not gender specific. Anyone is at risk of poor mental health depending on the issues they’re facing and what’s contributing to worsening mental health.
2. Mental health struggles are a sign of weakness or laziness. Struggling with mental health doesn’t mean one has failed or isn’t strong enough. It only shows there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
3. As long as you’re motivated enough and work hard, your mental health will be intact. The source of mental health issues can be from anywhere and sometimes even the most motivated and high achieving people can struggle achieving good mental health.
4. Children cannot be affected by mental health issues. Children are most susceptible to mental health issues because their minds are still growing and they’re also trying to find where and how they fit in. Neglecting a child’s mental health can stunt their growth.
5. You can just snap out of or get over mental health issues. Mental health is not just about positivity. That won’t always be enough. You can’t also simply pray it away. It requires conscious effort and investment into wellness habits and seeking help, treatment, and/or therapy.

 

If you’d like a deeper understanding of mental health, we are always here to teach you a thing or two. If you’re struggling with your mental health, kindly contact us for immediate help. Keep reading the October series on mental health to stay educated and enlightened.

Mental Health Matters.