We are nearing the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, and I want to know — how did mental health get on your radar?
For me it went something like this:
- WTF is going on? Why is so-and-so acting this way? What did I do? Why is this happening? Is there something wrong with me? Or them?
- Vent to other people and hear terms like: depression, anxiety, borderline, narcissist, addiction, delusional, hysterical.
- *Read psychology textbook* (This was in 2003…google had less content online back then and when it came to choosing between talking on the phone or fighting the family for computer access, I would choose phone…or driving around with friends…because friends.)
- Take psychology classes and learn about cognitive and behavioral psychology. Review articles on a bunch of science experiments that would be unethical to do now or, if we are honest, don’t translate to the wider public (how many people have depression but not anxiety?).
- *Believe I have all the mental illnesses*
- Realize that it’s normal to think you have all the problems you are learning about – even doctors go through this. Cool cool.
- *Believe I know the answers to all my questions in #1*
- Share my thoughts with friends – half of which find me to be “wise” and insightful. The other half probably think I’m navel gazing, but love me anyways.
Perhaps you can relate to a few of these steps?
Mental health is so woven into the fabric of our lives. At some point, we are bound to brush up against it and have questions. Especially when something hard happens.
Identifying the Phenomenon
In our search for understanding, we can get caught up in labels that may or may not help us actually improve our mental health. Kind of like when you reorganize all your office supplies every time you sit down to work and then don’t actually get to work…sound familiar?
It can be such a comfort to know that a phenomenon we are experiencing is A THING. A bonafide thing. However, knowing a name for something is just the first step to creating change.
Additionally, it’s worth acknowledging that the words we use to describe phenomena are so often influenced by the cultural landscape that they are worthy of ongoing evaluation and discernment.
And this is where I find the world of mental health gets VERY interesting to me.
As I near 10 years in the field, I find myself less and less invested in what we call something and much more interested in how to create movement, growth and change.
Coming from this angle, connection, curiosity and experience take center stage. Meanwhile, academic psychological terms and ideas fall away until they are absolutely needed. Which is plenty often, but they don’t lead the charge of developing mental wellness.
As I say this I find myself pausing. Pausing because my knowledge and know-how of trauma recovery does inform this perspective.
We get hurt in relationships and we heal in relationships.
Shoot. We get hurt in any context and we are driven to find support, first and foremost, through relationships.
This drive is rooted in our nervous systems.
The more we learn about our nervous systems, the more we have new frame for mental health. A frame that pulls together our thoughts, behaviors, emotions, actions, physiological responses, and social connections. Ultimately, this web of understanding is invaluable to cultivating mental wellness.
To me, the nervous system provides insight into etiology and healing in a way that categories of symptoms do not.
Embedded in this is safety and connection.
Finding Safety and Connection
The more we can create safety and tune into connection, the more we will find insights, ideas and solutions that align and integrate these different dimensions of mental wellness. From here, we can foster mental wellness that is much more sustainable than working from one angle alone.
This is where I circle back to letting go of fancy terms and labels in an effort to improve your own mental health. Because the words that come up for you in your own personal inquiry – that shed light, compassion, understanding without judgment – are enough. They are enough because they are meaningful to you. And, ultimately, that which is meaningful to you helps you cultivate connection.
With all this in mind, follow safety and connection and see what happens to your mental health.