Mental Health: an unavoidable reality
What is mental health?
People usually don’t acknowledge what they don’t see. Like how you would offer to send someone you see limping to the doctor, or if someone fell and broke their arm. But the same cannot be said with the unseen, and that’s exactly what mental health is. Mental health is health of the mind, you can’t see a person’s mind, but that doesn’t mean the person doesn’t have a mind. You can see a person’s physical aliment, but you can’t see a person’s depression, since the “mind” isn’t a tangible and visible object.
When someone says that depression “is all in the mind”, they might not necessarily be wrong, because that’s from a layman perspective, and it’s something that cannot be seen. But just like any physical ailment, the mind can also be hurt and needs help and healing.
Unfortunately, unlike physical ailments that are visible and easily draw attention, mental illness is often the opposite. It is not only unseen, it is also viewed as something that should be hidden away and not be shown to others, because it is seen as a sign of weakness.
Mental illness is not something that society readily accepts, and it can affect a person’s social life, sometimes the fear stems from the idea that if someone shares about their depression openly, that their social circle might just close and eventually disappear.
How many times have you encountered someone who was looking down, and the first sentence out of your mouth would be: “Hey, are you okay?” and that person would respond: “Ya, I’m fine”.
Think about this scenario:
Let’s just say you saw someone you know, typically boisterous and rowdy, but that person has their head down and quiet, that might be just that person being misinterpreted down from having had a bad day, but it may be depression, and sometimes, even brushed off as a joke. What if that person needed help?
Many times, this occurs because people tend to put up a façade of normalcy when dealing with the general public, and people that they are not close with, but had to mix with for some reason, maybe a social gathering perhaps?
Especially within the peer level, when peer pressure is common to lead to people to do things that they are uncomfortable with, and it’s not as simple as saying “break out of your comfort zone”. Oftentimes, action isn’t taken on an invisible aliment until something visible occurs, like a mental breakdown. And what’s worse is that, if it actually happens, people will stop calling you out to join them for social gatherings, because they just aren’t ready to deal with anything that might happen. And that thought process also rubs off the individual: “Should I go and meet so and so? Should I attend this party? “What if something happens while I’m there?”. Invitations get rejected, and eventually, the person doesn’t get invited to any social gatherings anymore. This leads to isolation, and more space for negativity and negative thoughts.
Enough about the effects of mental illness on social life.
How about self-sustenance?
Even something as fundamental as looking for a job, mental illness (or just having had a background of mental illness) affects an individual’s job prospects, and it wasn’t until recently that mental health declaration was finally deemed as a discriminatory practice
What are the chances you(think)get hired if you let people know that you had a mental illness background? The perception would be that this person cannot take stress, cannot do heavy tasks, cannot contribute meaningfully etc. That’s the reality.
Now, if you read up to here, you might be thinking: “why doesn’t he talk about family or looking for professional help? Well, the next paragraph will tell you why.
Sometimes, the closest people are the hardest to share your problems with, especially if you live together, because of the close proximity, you would rather keep things cordial. And, think about it, maybe as a kid, you would be excited to go home every day and share about your school day with your parents, or complain about a certain bully. That’s part of the innocent nature that we have as children, but as we grow up, the desire to be independent starts to pull us away from our family, also as a way to show to our parents and to others that we can make decisions ourselves, and settle our issues on our own.
In any setting, work or social, no one wants to keep hearing things like: “let me ask my mother first” or “see what my father says”. People expect you to be able to make decisions by yourself. And that’s where the idea of keeping things to ourselves start to stem from. “I’m independent and strong, thus I should be able to get through this phase by myself”, and thus, the eager sharing style you had as a kid starts to fade away…
Then we move to the part about asking for professional help.
Earlier on in the article, I wrote that society perception of mental illness is generally negative, and that perception is what makes people not even want to seek help, because if you tell people you see a counsellor or a psychologist(even if you do not have a mental diagnosis), most people immediately have this preconceived picture of you. The perception of someone who sees a “shrink” is generally negative. Worse still, if you happened to slip out that you are taking medication.
All this said, I don’t think all hope is lost.
Perhaps there are 100 people in your community, don’t think of blending in with all 100 of them or their cliques. You could try to join all the small groups and see which one is the most open to you. And even within the small groups, pick one or two people that you feel you can talk to (it’s crucial that the potential friendship must be mutual and not one sided, otherwise you just end up getting hurt).
Set expectations, and have some form of understanding of how the friendship works. Some friendships work off transactional at first, but later on, as you get to know each other’s quirks better, and are accepting of one another, then that thought process slowly melts away, to a point it becomes forgotten. And that’s where a real friendship is formed.
Don’t expect that the 1st person you find is going to be your lifelong friend (congrats to you if that’s the case), but finding someone that is willing to be there in your ups and downs isn’t an overnight thing. You might face disappointments at first, but don’t give up, keep finding. What’s most important is that, for those friends that you do find, keep them close, don’t push them away.
Conversely, do not overload others with your problems all the time, try to balance it with both the ups and downs. Celebrate your successes, and talk about your failures, and work it through with them, sometimes all that is needed is a listening ear.