May 8, 2014

Don't Disconnect- Mental Health Awareness Month


A huge proportion of my friends and family are mentally ill.

I don't mean that in a joking, silly, "Oh, my friends are so crazy!" kind of way. Because "crazy" is a mean word for a real thing, and May is Mental Health Awareness month. I mean nearly everyone I spend time with, on a daily basis or on a long term basis, copes with mental illness.

The common statistic is that one in four people are living with mental illness, but I think it's probably higher. Because people don't want to come out and get help for something they see as a weakness, rather than a medical condition.

Most people don't talk about it. There's so much stigma, so much fear when it comes to being "outed" as... well... "crazy."

The fact is, "mental illness" and "crazy" aren't even close to the same thing.

If you think about the huge range of physical ailments humans suffer, we'd agree most of the people we know are, in some way, sick.

They have asthma, or gluten intolerance, or are recovering from cancer, or have allergies, or arthritis, or obesity, diabetes, migraines, or high blood pressure. And we consider this completely normal. This is the way people are. Are they dying? No, not generally. But they have some kind of ailment. And very often, they're medicated for them.

Mental health is pretty much the same thing.

I know people with sensory processing issues. With bipolar disorder, PPD, anxiety, neuroses, PMDD, situational depression, eating disorders, PTSD, chemical dependency issues, body dimorphic disorder, phobias, RTS... the list goes on.

And this? This is also "normal." This is what happens when a human being has a brain, and subjects it to the rigors of life. Just as high blood pressure, arthritis, knee injuries, and tooth decay are a symptom of having a body and using it for years without a break.

You never get a break from living, and living wears you down. In more ways than physically.

But we don't ask about people's emotional health. We don't ask about their mental health. Because we can't see it. Because we're afraid of it.

We're afraid of what's happening inside other people's heads.

But we shouldn't be. The human brain is an amazing thing, and we hardly understand it. We know we absolutely need it, but so much about our own minds is total mystery to us. And asking people if the mysterious grey matter inside their heads that allows all of human life to be possible is, you know, doing okay... it feels uncomfortable.

The same thing we don't want to ask about is what makes us not want to ask that. Brains are strange, indeed.

But we need to.

We need to ask about it, to care about it.

Your brain is an organ, just as surely as your kidneys and liver are. And like your lungs, kidneys, and hearts you NEED your brain. You function better when it's healthy.

We don't distinguish "heart health," and "liver health" when we ask somebody how they're doing. We ask about the body as a whole, and assume that whatever might be slightly off about it today is something below the neck. But "brain health" and mental health are the same thing.

To suggest otherwise is to claim that your mind and your body are only loosely connected at best. But let's face it- your brain is part of your body.

Mental health is just plain health. Because health is about quality of life, the ability to function. And if your brain isn't working properly, you're just as unhealthy as if it's your gall bladder acting up.


It's Mental Health Awareness month. So be aware, yes. But before that, be self aware. Take the time to ask yourself if you've neglected your brain, if you've stigmatized its problems before addressing them.

Take the time to ask if you've done that to somebody else.

And don't be afraid to see a doctor for your brain. There are doctors for your skin, for your reproductive organs, for your feet... you need your brain just as much.

Take care of yourselves.

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