Image credit: lubaib on Flickr
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?
amanda_stand Number one point here I think is ‘Mental health is something that EVERYONE has, just like physical health’. #hachat
amygdala_101 #hachat we all have mental health, it exists on a continuum, and moves up, down, and along that continuum.
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:
brownawell MH and physical health are so intertwined, especially a chronic condition or illness. Both (MH and PH) need support! #hachat
SLEYoungLeaders: With #lupus, the odds of you developing Depression & other mental health issues is high. Seeking a therapist for help is vital #HAchat
3lainess there is a lot of anxiety and depression in breast cancer, lots of anxiety with ADD, and lots of anxiety with body image issues #hachat
Dyverse_Steele yes almost everyone I know that has hiv/aids has had mental health issues from knowing they will be taking pills forever #hachat
running4autism I am an autism mom. Special needs parents have high statistical likelihood of depression. #hachat
CornMuffinsMama Pregnancy caused my hypothyroidism which caused the PPD.I talk all the time 2 ppl about the link between thyroid/PPD. #hachat
MakeThisLookAwe: I have hypomania, anxiety, and depressive episodes as part of the mechanism of my migraines. I also have #MedicalPTSD. #HAchat
FeliciaFibro By talking about how depression commonly overlaps #fibro & that it doesn’t mean #fibro is “all in your head.” #hachat
FightingCat @wegohealth T3 #MH *is* my condition. Talk about triangle with stress and sleep #HAchat
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:
hotelqueen @wegohealth MI = “crazy” and depression = “just a little bit sad”. Misconceptions at both ends of the spectrum #HAchat
CornMuffinsMama It’s another HUGE misconception that PTSD is just for service members returning from combat. #hachat
MakeThisLookAwe One problem with mental health & physical health, a lot of doctors will start ignoring physical symptoms once a dx of MI is given #HAchat
@CornMuffinsMama It’s also important to remember that there is no hierarchy of “better” or “worse” mental illness #HAchat
MakeThisLookAwe There needs to be less #stigma around #medication. Taking a pill to help how you feel & function does not mean you’re broken. #HAchat
researchgirlca: MI is but a piece of our lives, our communities. We are whole people with interests, etc. #HAchat
Why is everyone afraid to talk about mental health?
CornMuffinsMama Many people dont realize the connection between MH and physical health. They also don’t recognize MH issues as legit #hachat
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?
researchgirlca: I think we need to do away with the idea of mind/body. health is health. #HAchat
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.
SLEYoungLeaders: As Health Activists we should talk freely, openly, and non-judgmentally about Mental Health & how to seek help if needed. #HAchat
pamressler: By integrating quality MH care into comprehensive care for any chronic condition would be a good start #hachat
julianna12369 Final Thoughts: What we talk about and shine a light on cannot stay stigmatized for long. Mental Health is everyone’s health! #HAchat
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.
SLEYoungLeaders RT @wegohealth: I think many of us feel “guilty” for feeling “down” in some way. That is a tough thing to get past. #HAchat
julianna12369 @wegohealth I have been bipolar for over 25 years and I still apologize for longer depressive episodes. I have to stop doing that. #HAchat
MakeThisLookAwe We don’t judge someone for using crutches or insulin, but #headmeds are somehow a sign of being deficient or deformed… #stigma #HAchat –
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.
SLEYoungLeaders Final Thoughts: You’re not alone with issues on Mental Health/Illness. Seek help, encouragement, and information to better yourself. #HAchat
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.