May is Mental Health month. Mental Health refers to the wellbeing of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Like our physical health, we may have times/years where we notice no problems. Our functioning is adequate. Sometimes the unpredictable illness happens for no expected reason, even begins when we are young. Other times we can be affected by life circumstances, age, events, people and relationships, physical illness, grief and loss, job stress, etc. which change our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, our functioning, our quality of life, unless we catch that process. It would be good to be aware of our mood, thoughts, and behaviors and take good self-care steps for ourselves when stress/life happens.
In addition to an awareness of how we are doing and feeling, a recognition of warning symptoms is needed, so we can take action to stop the progress of whatever kind of illness/condition is showing up. Physically and mentally. Regular physical medical check-ups provide this function. There are no routine mental health checkups like this currently available to the public. So self-recognition of our own adequate mental health, knowing what symptoms indicate mental health problems, is necessary. But if we catch/suspect problem mental health symptoms, then overcoming our common embarrassment and the strong desire to ignore them, to keep doing what we are doing, becomes a vital challenge. Elements of stigma often play in here.
Perhaps the term, “stress,” can be a middle ground for awareness of physical and mental problems, and foster good self-care. In our society, daily life contains all kinds of “normal?” stress experiences: our own packed routines, and then sudden changes to those. Usually we find our way through and can return to the usual again. But too much stress, with demands beyond the resources we have, or lasting longer than what we can manage, or being too upsetting, can become problematic with no assistance. (The COVID story fits right in here.) Too much stress affects us physically and mentally and there can be dire consequences for both.
When we are in stress overload, physical stress symptoms arrive, plus, for mental health, our “behaviors,” uncomfortable “feelings,” (like being out of control), affect our functioning. With too much negative stress, we become forgetful, find ourselves accident prone, (distracted thoughts), avoid people, become more cynical and negative, lose our sense of humor, find ourselves in more arguments and disputes, increased physical signs can show up in headaches, stomach aches, aches and pains. We begin to resort to quick fixes: drinking/using substances, which have their own consequences. We are quite possibly on our way to mental and emotional breakdowns (and other major physical conditions).
To prevent those experiences just mentioned, monitoring our own moods and attitudes, before those behaviors take hold, taking breaks or days off from work or home stress, finding resources to help, talking to trusted people or counselors to express our thoughts and feelings, problem solving, working out coping tools, would be well worth protecting our lives (and families as well). Self-care steps to stop and redirect that negative stress is healthy and courageous, and could make a major difference in the quality of our lives and our families.
Mental Health stigma is the belief that any problems with emotions, behaviors and thoughts are totally controllable by each person. (Ie their own fault) Therefore such people can be treated/seen as ‘weak, a disgrace, despicable’, and therefore to be labeled, avoided, blamed, ostracized. Our society displays some of this stigma in its lack of fostering positive mental health self-care teaching and the limiting of funding of resources and insurance.
Locally, there are some rays of hope in improving our recognition of mental health symptoms and getting care. Federal funding for integration of mental health services into existing physical health clinics, to ‘serve the whole person,’ is functioning in Federal Qualified Healthcare Clinics, such as Shawnee Health Services. Medical providers and counselors communicate and work together for the overall well being of our patients.
Here are some resources to learn more: