I had the opportunity to speak with a small group of people today about mental health and mental illness. After I was done speaking one gentleman in the room spoke and said, “With everything I learned today, I don’t understand why we aren’t talking about mental health everyday. I mean–I never hear about the things you were talking about on TV. When the hospital does a Health & Wellness Program it’s always about physical health. Never about mental health. And this is a public health crisis!”
He was astonished. I smiled and said, “That’s why more people need to hear about mental health and mental illness. Everybody has mental health. Not everyone has mental illness. But to stay mentally healthy we’ve got to talk about it more.”
When do we really talk about mental health? Well, it depends upon what you’re calling mental health. Some people are more comfortable saying mental health problem than mental illness. I use both words. But health implies without illness. But for the sake of the conversation I’m going to talk about both.
Mental Health is discussed when tragedy strikes
About the only time we talk about mental health/illness is when there is a mental health crisis and someone either dies by suicide, is shot and killed by police or if a person with mental illness kills other people. The news runs 24/7 when something terrible happens.
When the Las Vegas shooting happened, all the news media were posing the question about this evil man’s mental health. Did he have a mental illness? Was there a history? Which all the evidence came back and said he had no history of mental illness, no official diagnosis.
It is true there have been situations where the person who was violent had an untreated mental illness. But the fact is most people with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of crime than the perpetrator.
Celebrity disclosures stimulate a conversation–but it’s not enough
On the rare occasions a celebrity comes forward and discloses their mental health struggles, the story usually gets some national exposure. But it’s a shared secret and then it dies. It never continues the conversation about how to stay mentally healthy, why it’s important to get treatment early, how it’s imperative to learn about your illness, how mental illness affects everyone differently, how there is a shortage of inpatient hospital beds, etc. The information the public needs is abundant. But what we get is often misleading and not very helpful, with the exception of knowing if you have a mental illness you are not alone. And that is pretty powerful.
Employers don’t talk about it
And then of course there are many different situations where our lack of understanding plays its’ way out. Most people are not comfortable disclosing to an employer they are experiencing a mental health problem/mental illness. But the number one disability in the world is depression. Who knew? Which has significantly high numbers on loss of productivity and loss of work days. Every employer should be talking about how to stay mentally healthy and how to recognize the early signs and symptoms of mental illness. And the necessity for getting treatment early.
I’m talking about it every chance I get
Each time I have gone out into the public and had a conversation about mental health/mental illness people come up to me, make eye contact and thank me profusely for starting the conversation. I remember the first talk I gave to a group of students. They were relieved I brought the topic up. They wanted to know if their parents had a mental illness would they get one too. That gave me an opportunity to explain risk factors, of which genetics is a factor. Everyone should know mental illness runs in the family just like any other illness.
The statistics tell us 1 in 5 people live with a mental illness. It’s common. Anxiety and depression rank highest on the chart effecting a large amount of people. Everyone should know how to recognize the signs and symptoms, so they can see it in themselves and with loved ones.
When do we talk about mental health? Not until it’s a public health crisis. Guess what? It is.
If you’d like for me to come and talk at your organization or school, please contact me at Amy Gamble Contact