May is full of month full of health observances. There’s Cystic Fibrosis, Lupus, Arthritis, Lyme Disease, Women’s Health week, Food Allergy, Celiac Disease, among others. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. While Mental Health often gets boxed into its own category, it is intricately related to physical health and each and every condition. How can we talk about fibromyalgia without discussing the impact that chronic pain has on mental health? How can we discuss lupus or celiac disease without thinking about the way forced lifestyle changes impact your psyche? Tuesday’s Health Activist chat was one of the most riveting chats that we’ve hosted at WEGO Health. The number of Health Activists that came together across conditions to discuss the crossover between mental health and their condition demonstrates how pervasive mental health is and that it deserves more attention in the management of physical health.
What isn’t mental health?
Defining mental health is both straight-forward and complicated. It is easy to come up with a definition – mental health is one’s level of emotional, psychological and cognitive wellbeing. Mental health is closely related to anything that affects you psychologically, including mental illness and addiction. It involves your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and compulsions. However, the term mental health usually conjures up images of mental illness, including depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. But like physical health, there is a difference between wellness and illness. Everyone has some state of mental health. Myths, misconceptions and stigma abound — but mental health affects each and every one of us.
It is easy to see how important it is to maintain good mental health when looking at co-morbidities: amygdala_101 if your emotional needs cannot be met due to physical illness, mi can easily follow..get needs met to avoid mi! #hachat. Many Health Activists discussed the ways that Mental Health intersects with their health conditions:
Top Myths and Misconceptions about Mental Health:
In line with our theme this month, here are some of the top myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health:
Why is everyone afraid to talk about mental health?
The aforementioned myths, misconceptions and stigma prevent many from sharing their struggles with mental illness. Even with all of these Health Activists coming out and saying how closely related mental health issues are to their other health conditions; there is still a reluctance to be open about dealing with them. natasha_tracy Historically, mental illness was seen as a demonic force and later as a character/moral failing and that sentiment still lingers. #hachat. People are embarrassed. Many Health Activists share very personal details about their bodies, their lives and the lives of their families are still hesitant to talk about their mental health: running4autism I’ve been silent about it bc I do feel the stigma. Wrongly I know, I feel ashamed of my conditions. #HAchat. Others have chosen to discuss their mental health more privately, such as in closed Facebook groups.
The fact that Mental Illness is invisible makes many hesitant to open up about it. Not only is there a tendency for people to not believe in something that they cannot see, there is the added fear and stigma surrounding what Mental Illness “looks like” according to stories and mass media. Mental health shares many of the same misconceptions as other invisible illnesses. running4autism: MI is invisible, therefore ppl don’t think it’s real. We’re making it up! #hachat .You may not necessarily look sick, so others may think that you’re faking or exaggerating. However, even with physical illness there isn’t the same explanation needed, or the same fear. FightingCat Feel need to explain what/why to others. Don’t have to explain why with a physical illness #HAchat. According to CornMuffinsMama, Christianity adds another layer of stigma: CornMuffinsMama: within Christianity, it’s still often seen as a spiritual failing if someone has a MH issue. “U need 2 pray more” “Must b sin” #hachat. This sentiment of “you need to pray more” is quite similar to “you’re just sad, cheer up!”
Fear of blame and judgment also prevent people from opening up about mental health. As in many other conditions, those outside of the mental health community like to play the blame game. The myth that people living with mental illness must have done something to deserve their affliction is all too common and just as difficult to correct. CornMuffinsMama The stigma is that you’re doing something wrong, you’ve somehow failed, you are less of a person, you’re “crazy” #hachat. People want to believe this myth because they are afraid. Mental illness and the brain specifically are not well understood even within the scientific community, and blame makes it easier for a person to say – that won’t happen to me. natasha_tracy “crazy” is just fear misspelled.#hachat
All of these factors combined mean that those with mental illness may not seek the help they need. It is important to remember that even if you’re not comfortable discussing your mental health with family and friends, there is nothing wrong with seeking help. SLEYoungLeaders: It’s important to remember that seeking help for Mental Health issues like Depression are OKAY. It’s the RIGHT thing to do! #HAchat
How do we open up a dialogue around mental health and mental illness?
As always, the question becomes: how do we combat these myths? How do we get people to open up a dialogue surrounding mental health and mental illness? As with many other health conditions, the key to combatting stigma is education. We need to promote a more active dialogue about mental health. Encourage others to seek help if they need it. We need to take a more integrative approach to care and stop separating the mind and body into different categories. Health Activists can lead the way by bringing mental health into their own writing and discussions with their community members.
natasha_tracy Stigma is combated by standing up and talking about reality. Knowledge dispels fear and thus stigma.
In order to begin a constructive conversation about mental health, you have to stop feeling guilty, stop blaming yourself, stop apologizing! Mental illness is no one’s fault, whether it resulted from trauma or from chemical imbalances in your brain. You have to stop blaming yourself. Blaming yourself only makes it easier for others to blame you. Stop fearing judgment and do what you need to do in order to take care of yourself. Learn what taking care of yourself really means.
Finally, remember that you’re not alone. No matter the differences between each individual’s health, mental health is something that we all have in common. As this chat demonstrated, there are countless others going through the same thing that you are, it’s just a matter of reaching out to find the help and support you need. If the WEGO Health community is any indication of the support available in the online health community, we can safely say that the help you need is out there.
What is your community doing to encourage discussion of mental health and mental illness? Where do you turn to for support? Share your thoughts by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tune in next week for another special #HAChat in honor of National Women’s Health Week. Tuesdays, 3 PM EST.