Why should you prioritize your mental health? In recent years, particularly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, increased attention has been given to the matter of mental health, not only in the US, but around the world. Celebrities like Beyoncé, Abby Wambach, and Prince Harry and Megan Markle have bravely shared their own personal stories, to name a few. Being exposed to people more likely to publicly share their mental health journey normalizes the challenges that we all experience, to one degree or another; challenges such as symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma, to name a few. This kind of collective progress is exciting to those of us working in the field of mental health, and yet we still have a long way to go.
Medical health vs. the stigma of mental health
Although a staggering estimated 51.5 million Americans, about 20% of the country, are living with a mental health condition, more than half do not receive support. There is still a stigma around mental health that acts as a barrier to getting help. For instance, no one would think twice about seeing a doctor for a broken arm or the flu. In our society, a doctor’s note is generally viewed as a legitimate excuse for being absent, even for kids in elementary school. Handing in an absence note from one’s therapist is largely unheard of, because we still struggle to legitimize mental health symptoms as real and inhibiting.
Many people study or work in environments that promote productivity and accomplishment, even when it means neglecting their own needs for rest and self-support. Additionally, many are often reluctant to see a therapist for seemingly “minor” issues like low mood, stress, or lack of motivation. One reason this happens is our own attitude towards ourselves when we are struggling–we might feel embarrassed or sad about it–as well as our assumptions about how others will see us if we are “not ok.” We might not know or trust that approaches to mental health, like therapy or self-help, are actually effective. And let’s not forget that many of us grew up in families where the norm was to minimize distress. We often carry these attitudes into adulthood, causing us to feel weak for having struggles, and creating reluctance to express our needs for help. These kinds of cultural attitudes can increase the shame around mental health, and present enormous barriers to accessing support.
What if we began to practice caring for our mental health in the same way we care for our medical health?
What if self-help was part of our daily regimen, and what if mental health visits with a professional were as common as a routine doctor’s checkup? Imagine how life could be different if the issues that feel most troubling could be normalized, validated, and addressed with support. This kind of change is only possible when each person starts taking steps to prioritize their mental health.
So, why should you (finally) prioritize your mental health?
- Sometimes our mental health is suffering without our knowledge — We sometimes live life unaware of subtle issues below the surface. For instance, a routine mammogram might pick up on a cancerous tumor long before we begin to feel unwell. Similarly, we may be unaware of the severity of our mental health symptoms before taking an online assessment or speaking with a professional. Panic attacks are a classic example. Every year, numerous Americans present in the Emergency Room thinking they are experiencing a heart attack. After being evaluated, however, they discover it was panic, and this prompts them to pursue mental health services, in order to better understand how to manage their anxiety moving forward.
- When we normalize mental health for ourselves, we help to make it normal for others, too – When we acknowledge and share our experiences and challenges, others feel safer to share theirs, in return. Shame decreases when we learn to be more open and vulnerable about our problems, and when shame is lessened, it becomes easier to access help and see positive change.
- Support is probably more available than you think (including so many online tools or therapy) – Research shows that online mental health support is available and effective, even if it is self-directed learning. Below is a list of just a few of the many online resources available. Research also shows that therapy with a trained professional is also effective; about 75% of those who access therapy benefit from it.
Check out these free self-help online resources
- Virtual recovery resources for individuals in recovery from substance abuse
- MyCompass via the Black Dog Institute for individuals with mild to moderate depression, anxiety, and stress
- Support groups for folks in need of a support group on a wide variety of topics, including bipolar, disordered eating, addiction, and more.
- International OCD Foundation for more information on obsessive compulsive disorder, and links to free online support groups in your area.
- PFLAG for LGBTQ+ support.
Need more help from a therapist?
Sometimes the need for support extends beyond self-help. If your symptoms are overwhelming to manage, impairing your daily function, or if you simply need a listening ear, it may be time to speak with a professional therapist. If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual and in-person sessions.