TRADITIONALLY, health care for us Westerners is routine. For most of us, we are pretty on to it when it comes to our physical health. We notice some symptoms, and then we look to how we can reduce them.
We go to our GP when we have the flu, our physiotherapist for a torn muscle, and our dentist when we have a toothache. If our GP refers us to a specialist then we are likely to attend.
Then we do what they say and for the most part, we are compliant. Some of us will also go outside of the traditional medical model and explore natural treatments.
Yet we hesitate when it comes to mental health. We sit in the uncomfortableness of our symptoms for longer than we ever would a physical health problem.
“How long have you had these symptoms?” I usually ask new clients. It is not unusual for me to get “for a few months,” “on and off since I was a teenager” or “for years” as a response.
Why do we do this? Why do we suffer in pain for so long? Why are we as a society so scared to deal with mental health issues when the sooner we deal with them, the better we will feel.
Why do so many people ignore their ‘mental health’ when it has to do with the most important organ in our body, our brain. Our brain controls every, single, thing we do. Why are we not quick to get help when it is not doing so well?
One reason is the stigma surrounding mental illness. Stigma is the fear of getting labelled in a negative way, and then treated differently because of it. It is the fear of being discriminated by the people around us.
We are scared to admit that we are not doing well psychologically, which is then stopping us from seeking help. When you think about it, it is quite ridiculous really that we feel the need to be ashamed of something that is so common. Nearly half of us Australians will experience mental illness at some point our lives.
But like other forms of discrimination, mental health stigma usually comes from a lack of knowledge and a fear of the unknown. Our society really doesn’t know enough about mental illness to make useful comments to support people who are clearly suffering.
Mental health problems are caused by a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. These problems cannot be reduced to something that needs to be feared or something people need to just ‘get over.’ Why should we just be able to ‘get over’ our mental health problems?
It’s not as easy at that. But it can be easier after we take that first step to getting help. But before we even do this we need to start ignoring those who make stupid comments about mental health issues.
Negativity surrounding mental illness comes from all over the place; the stereotypical representation of mental health problems we often see on TV and in the movies and the overall history of negative portrayal of people with mental health disorders. It has all acted as a precedent for how we deal with mental illness now.
People in general don’t have a good understanding of mental health problems and if someone is telling us to ‘get over it’, well, they don’t really know what they are talking about. Such limited thinking doesn’t help society, of which half are going to experience mental health symptoms in their lives.
We need to just tune out to other peoples negative talk about mental illness (it’s crazy), and then tune in to ourselves. If we are not feeling mentally well we need to get help. Just like we do when we are feeling physically sick. It should be as easy-peasy as that. We need to use the same process we use when we are feeling sore, nauseous, or snotty. What do we do then? We reach out to a friend, our family or the right health professional to get us well again.
Being scared to admit that we are not doing well psychologically can stop us from seeking help.
Sometimes getting help for our mental health issues is quick, for some a little longer. Us mental health professionals aren’t any scarier than your local doctor or physiotherapist, yet the thought of going to us makes many cringe. Some of us are pretty cool (and yes, I include myself in this). Spending some time with us, which may seem quite daunting to many, can be life changing.
Society has come along way with increasing mental health help seeking behaviour, but we still have a long way to go. We need to stop ignoring the lingering depressed mood, the heart palpitations, the repetitive thoughts or the feelings of never ending pressure.
We just need to start ignoring those people that tell us to ‘get over it’.