Mental Health for Humans
As the days grow longer and the temperature starts to rise, renewed energy fills the air. Spring brings with it a burst of colourful blooms, and new opportunities for growth and self-care emerge. For those of us who tend to spend all winter hibernating under a blanket at home, this seasonal rebirth encourages us to be outside in nature, spend time with friends, and increase our physical activity - all of which are proven to have a positive impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.
However, Spring and Summer often see the highest rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. To help combat this, Australia dedicates the whole month of October each year to Mental Health Awareness. That may seem pretty excessive, but there’s good reason for it. According to a report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released just this year, 42.9% of people aged 18-85 had experienced a mental disorder at some point in their life, with 21% having experienced one within the last 12 months. Yet, still only a portion of those ever access support from a professional, due in part to the lingering stigma surrounding mental health. It’s a narrative that we’re working hard to change.
A common misconception is this idea that mental health and wellbeing support are only for people with mental illness, but the fact of the matter is that everyone has mental health. Although it’s frequently viewed through a narrow lens and only associated with disorders like anxiety or depression, it encompasses much more than that. It’s about managing stress, connecting with others, coping with loss, and learning how to live in alignment with your values so that you feel good about who you are, among other things. Just like our physical health, it’s prone to going awry at times. Our mental health fluctuates as we come up against challenges or points of stagnation in life - that’s really normal, and it’s something that affects all of us at some point, eventually.
However, culturally and socially there’s been this idea that ‘If I go talk to someone about… (my anxiety, my relationships, my grief, my issues with a work colleague, my anger, my burnout, my self-esteem, my addictions, my whatever) then that means I can’t deal with it myself and that means there’s a problem with me’. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty harsh line of thinking towards yourself, and the challenges we all face as human beings. It’s important to remember that most of us were not taught how to manage our mental well-being while growing up, as mental health education has not been a part of the standard curricula until very recently. We were also never meant to deal with it alone. In the past, we would go to a village elder or community groups for support in times of emotional distress. But now, we often grapple with these sorts of issues in isolation. It’s time to reconsider our standard approach.
One way to reframe accessing things like therapy or counselling is to liken it to any other support service. If you wanted to get in better shape and start building good strength, you might hire a personal trainer to help you learn proper form and technique. If you wanted to start saving for a house or figure out the best way to invest your current savings, you might talk to an accountant who knows their way around numbers. If you were struggling with knee pain because of poor hip alignment or an abnormal gait, you might choose to see a physiotherapist who can help you with exercises and strategies to improve your symptoms. It doesn’t make us ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ or ‘stupid’ because there are things we don’t know yet or things we need some guidance with. Afterall, no one is born with all of this information. It takes years of study and experience to gain mastery in these fields. Seeking support from a specialist can empower us to learn and start making changes that will improve our lives, no matter the area of concern.
I may be digging a little too deep here but I think this change in perspective could make accessing mental health services a lot more approachable. You don’t need to be in crisis or struggling with mental illness to qualify for support - everyone with a brain can benefit. In fact, therapy is for anyone who has a desire to understand themselves, their challenges, and their relationships more deeply. It means you care about doing things better, and that’s pretty respectable in my opinion.
Oh, and if you do happen to be going through some tricky life stuff, you don’t deserve to suffer. Reach out, talk to someone. You are worthy of support. You are not alone.