The Stigma of “Mental Health”

I would like to start a campaign to get rid of “mental health.” There is only one body. We don’t separate out the terms “arm health” or “nose health.” We do have specialists in those areas, and that’s fine. But our minds are part of our bodies. I think it would be much more accurate and much more healthy to just have “health.”
By separating out “mental health,” we allow support for the stigmas that have plagued individuals with such diagnoses as depression, anxiety, and ADHD for generations. Our entire bodies run on chemicals and electricity, including our emotions and moods.
We may have some control over our moods, but the control is not complete. No matter how hard they try to be happy and positive, some people require medication to balance the chemicals in their body that determine mood. Some people struggle with anxiety even if they train with mindfulness, deep breathing, and yoga.
In some ways, it’s similar to the fact that people have control over heart disease. If they over eat, smoke, and don’t exercise, their probability of having a heart attack is increased. So do we blame them? Worse, do we deny employment or promotions? Not that I am aware. Some people have a genetic profile that makes heart disease more likely than for others. We tend to be sympathetic to them.
Men who play football are more likely to break a leg, tear a knee ligament, or dislocate a shoulder. Their behavior puts them at risk, but instead of saying they need to be more careful and not impact the overall cost of health insurance, we cheer them on by the millions.
So why does a person who does whatever they can to stay positive and healthy yet still needs medication for depression have to fear his employer finding out that he is being treated? It is not just a matter of “being tough.”
Football players are arguably the toughest guys out there. If they tear a ligament, does the coach say, “Tough it out—get back in there”? Of course not! But if a person is depressed, people often say, “You just need to be tougher,” or, “Quit feeling sorry for yourself.” Society as a whole is not sympathetic.
Things are getting slightly better. The armed forces have finally recognized the reality of “mental illness,” especially PTSD and depression. But that doesn’t mean the individuals the service men and women deal with on a daily basis treat them with the respect the policy suggests. There are still too many people who perceive any emotional or “mental” difficulty as a sign of weakness.
Yes, people with depression need to do what they can to stay healthy and positive. And people who are overweight need to try to lose weight to save their heart. People who are getting older need to be sure to exercise their bodies (including brains) to stay functioning as long as possible. People who drive carelessly and cause accidents should arguably be off the road, and definitely if they have been drinking.
I don’t believe anyone does everything they should to stay healthy and support society to the degree they could. Those who keep themselves physically healthy might not do much to help others. Those who help others might not do much to keep themselves healthy. We are all human, and we all have our flaws.
Okay, parts of society judge everybody—else. For the most part, however, I think we accept folks for their foibles because we have our own. The exception is mental health. If a person struggles with what is currently termed “mental health” issues, they live in fear of their employers finding out, and sometimes even friends and family. Many come in for treatment, but they tend to not recognize the physical causes of emotional disorders. They often believe they are being weak to have to seek treatment, and they don’t always follow through with completing their treatment. Many are prescribed medication, but they don’t take it.
Emotions are not just choices. Sometimes they happen to us. And those that deal with the difficulties associated with emotions that are not always in our control should not be labeled as “weak.” A part of their body is not functioning correctly, and there should be no blame for that.

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