World Mental Health Day is Sunday, Oct. 10 this year. It’s a reminder that mental health is just as much part of a healthy, productive life as taking care of our heart, lungs, liver, bones and skin. It’s also an aspect of a healthy lifestyle we tend to ignore.
Physical conditions that cause pain, or lumps, or weakness, or some other kind of discomfort, are hard to dismiss, and usually (eventually) land us at the doctor’s office for a diagnosis and treatment. Mental conditions — anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, substance abuse disorders, eating disorders, delusions, etc. — those tend to be easier to hide, even from ourselves. After all, no one wants to be considered “crazy” or “nuts” or “insane” in our success-driven, superficial culture. Most of us grew up in a society that took great pride in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and “controlling yourself.” Asking for help is contrary to the spirit of independence and self-reliance we were taught to honor, particularly if what you need help with has been downplayed as an emotional weakness or a character flaw. Add to that a dearth of resources and care, the cost of treatment, and the stigma attached, and it’s no wonder we have a mental health crisis in this country.
It’s estimated half of all Americans will meet the criteria for a DSM-IV disorder at some point in life.
Here’s the thing: if you don’t take care of your mental health, your mental health will take care of you, and not in a good way. You wouldn’t (hopefully) look at a malignant tumor on your body and try to 1) self-medicate it, 2) ignore it and hope it goes away, or 3) pretend you’re fine. We do those things with our mental health all the time, and the outcome is just as dangerous, not just for yourself but for everyone around you.
Think about our social woes, from addiction to homelessness to domestic violence and more. How many of those crisis situations are caused, overtly or covertly, by mental illness?
World Mental Health Day is a good reminder to schedule a checkup, the same way you’d go in for a cancer screening. If anything seems “off,” don’t ignore it or try to treat it yourself, get some professional help. Find a therapist. Look for a support group. Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can even get mental health help online. Everyone can benefit from mental health care, even when you’re not in a crisis situation.
By NIKI TURNER | firstname.lastname@example.org