Is mental health only for people with a diagnosis?
We exist in the body but we live in our minds?
This is an interesting question. Are our bodies merely a container for our minds? Can our minds fully experience life if we did not have our physical selves?
Not everyone needs medication to be well physically, or mentally. Most of your mental health is about things that have little to do with medication.
Life is experienced through our senses. Think of one of your earliest memories as a child. Chances are, you can recall touching your mother or father, or smelling them or food being made, laughing or feeling happy, playing or having fun together. All of our experiences are a mind and body experience.
If we want to feel alive and enjoy our lives, we need an awareness of both our minds and our bodies. Our bodies need care, so what about our minds?
Is mental health only for people with a diagnosis?
Each of us needs to care for our bodies, so it makes sense that we also need to take care of our mind and our emotions. Just as the body can have many different states, so can our minds and emotions.
Myth #1: Mental health means getting the right medication
Not everyone needs medication to be well physically, or mentally. Most of your mental health is about things that have little to do with medication. Sometimes we may need medication and it is important that we listen to our doctor’s, but it is equally important that we listen to our bodies.
“Mental health is not about a pill. It is about what happens in the rest of my life.”
Myth #2: Mental health is about brain chemistry
True. But so is everything else. Cooking. Laughing. Working. Driving. Eating. Exercise, watching TV, having sex… Our brains ‘light up’ every time something feels good and in fact everything we do repeatedly changes our brain and it’s chemistry. ALL of life is about brain chemistry and our chemistry varies based on what we do: what we eat, how active we are, how engaged we feel, our environment and our personal blend of genetic “spices.”
Myth #3: Mental health is medical
ALL of life is about brain chemistry and our chemistry varies based on what we do: what we eat, how active we are, how engaged we feel, our environment and our personal blend of genetic “spices.”
Reducing mental health to what’s happening with our brain chemistry doesn’t really help. Mental health is more than pills, a difficult thought life or inner emotional world.
Myth #4: Mental health is for people in a hospital or in need of serious help
Mental health can be serious, but it is much more than situations where a person is deeply sad, suicidal or who has lost touch with reality. At any given time, 1 out of every 5 people can be experiencing a mental health situation that cripples their mind, emotions and ability to respond. But all of us will feel crippling emotions, setbacks, crushing doubts or troubling memories. Each of us have a mental health experience just as we have a physical health experience.
Myth #5: Mental health is simply the thoughts that we think
Thoughts are an important part of our mental health, but what else builds our mental health? Mental health is about our ability to enjoy relationships and do our work; it is about our ability to be creative and to be physically healthy. Mental health is about doing what feels alive rather than maintaining my brain chemistry.
Mental health is how we spend our time and ensuring that we prioritize important relationships. It is about how we organize our home and work environments and how we communicate. Taking care of our mental health means that we are more aware of what we eat, our sleeping patterns and exercise. Mental health means that we may need to vary our routines and activities to maintain our interest and energy. Mental health is also taking time for what makes us feel creative and engaged.
Myth #6: Mental health is a choice (or some will say, We have little choice about our mental health…)
Sometimes we hear people say, “Just get outside and live your lives… Stop thinking so much and you won’t be so depressed.” Or maybe our minds will judge us and we will put ourselves down. There three different causes that contribute to a person’s mental health:
- Our biology (like your genes, and where something goes wrong with how our brains are functioning)
- Our psychology (how we think about ourselves and our experience, how we react to losses and changes that happen to us)
- Our relationships and how we engage with the world (the ways that we live together, work, build meaning, create a better society or work to create a safer, more humane world)
It is true that each of us has some degree of choice in each of these three areas, but consider this: If physical health is simply about our choices, then why does cancer or poor dental health or heart disease seem more prevalent in one family versus another?
Thoughts are an important part of our mental health, but what else builds our mental health?… Mental health is taking time for what makes us feel creative and engaged.
Biology and genetics is one part of our mental health. Each of us can be influenced by our biology, our family history, our bodies chemistry. We have little and in many cases no choice over our biological make up, family background or essential body chemistry. But we do have choices about how we respond to things like our family background, how active or engaged in life we will be, whether or not and how much we eat or drink or use substances that change and possibly damage our mind/body/emotional perceptions.
Our environment also contributes to our mental health. Environment can be things like noise levels at work and where we shop and outside of our homes. It can be how easily it is to be outside or participate in things we like (being in nature, attending lectures or visiting the library, doing art or building something). How freely we can move around. Access to fresh water, clean and healthy foods. And being able to better ourselves or our situation and having the ability to determine the course of lives.
How we connect with others is also a part of our mental health. We have little choice over whether we are introverts or extroverts, or how well our families taught us to manage emotions, communicate or handle conflict. But we can adjust ourselves and learn better skills. And we can practice being open to experiencing some anxiety that may happen when we open up or meet new people.
If the country we live in is free, open, welcoming or if it is dictated by a strong or forceful political entity will have a significant impact on our mental health.
Each of us will have to sort through how to trust others if we have experienced trauma, abuse or betrayal. We all have a unique history and personal make up that will make some choices much, much harder than others. In spite of our history, trauma, biology, where we live or how much money we make… each one of us is able to do something to broaden our world. We can make some choices about how much we will venture out into our world and be involved in groups, or causes, or relationships.
Mental health is acceptance and commitment
We can make choices that improve our situation, choices that make it worse or choices to maintain life ‘as usual.’ But our mental health is more than simply the choices that we make. We need to understand and accept our personal biology, our genes, our early environments and our early relationships. But we also have some ability to decide whether or how much we pursue what is important or what makes us feel more like the person we want to be.
• • •
Mental health might sound complicated and we can be tempted to think that it is only for those with problems. But the question we need to consider is: How do you invest your free time so that you can build a better life?
If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read Mental Illness Cannot Be Treated With Just a Pill.
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Photo by Brian Tomlinson and Andy Officer