We’re all just a little bit mental.
There, I said it! It’s possible that many of us may be offended or insulted by such a statement. The revulsion to such a statement may well be routed in our assumptions about what the term “mental” or “mental health” actually means.
For many of us the concept of mental health is one of alienation or separation from the “general public”. Perhaps to have mental health makes one markedly different from average Jo, or makes us more likely to:
“Dance around the podium, strip naked and squawk like a chicken”
(A Beautiful Mind, 2001)
Perhaps our attitude around mental health can lead us to use words such as “crazy” or “cuckoo” when referring to others or even ourselves in relation to mental health. It is easy to understand how we continue to hold such strong attitudes around the subject.
Sure, we have moved beyond the days of the “lunatic asylum” and if asked I’m sure we’d all communicate a level of acceptance and understanding towards those who may struggle with their mental health.
But what if we began to struggle? What about those times when we get so bound up with an important decision that we can’t see through the anxiety and our head feels like it’s in a vice? What about those times when life just doesn’t seem to be holding anything for us, when we struggle to get motivated around anything and simply fall into a dull kind of begrudged auto-pilot? We might well tell ourselves to “pull it together” or believe in statements such as “I shouldn’t be feeling like this”. We may well struggle to speak about such things for fear of being judged as weak, or even worse, be given some kind of mental health diagnosis!
But the fact is that mental health is a continuum that we are all on. The perceived chasm between physical health and mental health is such a damaging one. We wouldn’t think twice about taking a Lemsip to help with a cold, or go to the hospital to fix a broken leg. We are also cognitive and spiritual beings, and therefore our head space, our spirit, our soul, our emotions, our thinking our awareness or whatever else we may like to call it, is also subject to fluctuations in health. Still, we remain reluctant to treat it!
Mental health is not the sole domain of those we read about in the papers, or see incarcerated in institutions in the movies. We’ve probably heard the now old Department of Health statistic, that at least 1 in 4 of us are likely at any time to be suffering with poor mental health; I believe the truth is that we are all likely to suffer from an experience of lesser mental health at some point. Most of us go underground with it, and ride it out until somehow things improve.
And things can and do improve. If we can genuinely admit that actually, we all sit somewhere on the spectrum of great to poor mental health, and that this is constantly moving from life season to life season, then maybe we can begin to learn not to fear the term “Mental Health” but instead embrace it.
If we began to take our own mental health more seriously, perhaps we’d all begin to look after it a little better; learn to talk, avoid isolating, get involved, get active and so on.
But all the time our metal health remains in the closet, my guess is that we will continue to fear and to suffer it.