By Katie Rössler
Imagine you fell and broke your leg. You are in great physical pain. Who would you call? What would you do? Who would be there to help you as you recover? How long would you expect recovery to take? Now, let’s imagine something different. You wake up and your world seems very grey.
Nothing makes you happy anymore. You have lost confidence. You stay inside and don’t socialize very much. You have stopped taking care of your physical health and appearance. Who would you call? What would you do? Who would be there to help you as you recover? How long would you expect recovery to take? I think your answers might be a bit different from the example where you break your leg. Why is that?
Enough of the questions. The point is that as a society, we can see that the care of physical pain needs assistance from someone trained in medical care. However, we don’t always see that emotional pain needs similar assistance from someone trained in mental health care. Many cultures teach that you are not supposed to share your mental health issues because it is a sign of weakness, or because it means that something is “really” wrong with you. We hide what already isn’t clearly understood until it becomes even more unhealthy than when it started. Depression, anxiety, and mood fluctuations all can be addressed much more easily when caught early on. Unfortunately, most people wait till the “broken leg” is about to fall off before seeking help.
I believe that if we de-stigmatize mental health and educate people on what it actually is, then people won’t wait till they are at their worst to seek help. Let’s look at the diagnosis of adjustment disorder. It is when a person struggles to adjust or cope with a major change in their life (i.e. a move, change in relationship status, going from high school to university, death in the family). Adjustment disorder only lasts up to six months. Anything longer and the diagnosis is changed to reflect depression, anxiety, and/or mood instability. I have a hard time believing that there is an adult who has not experienced adjustment disorder at some point in their life. This means that everyone has had or will experience a mental health issue. When adjustment disorder becomes more serious or lasts longer than six months, a mental health professional knows what to do. We are trained to see the signs, but often our clients come to us after adjustment disorder has turned into a greater issue. That’s like walking on a sprained ankle for six or more months and never treating it. Your recovery time will take even longer and the treatment will be more uncomfortable.
How can we change the view of mental health? I think it is important to recognize, first and foremost, that we will all struggle with a mental health issue at some point in our lives. It is normal. What is not normal is when we don’t get the care we need to help us improve our mental health. How we talk to, and about, others who we know are struggling with mental health can be improved as well. Talking to someone going through mental health issues like they are a child, or that something is hugely wrong with them, will push the person away. It conveys that you see what they are going through as a “problem,” and many then see themselves as a problem too. Think about what you would want and need if you were in their situation and maybe even ask them what they need from you. Do they need a listening ear or someone to motivate them to do something?
There are diagnoses that will make someone incapable of being a productive member of society, but these diagnoses are fewer than you may think. There are perfectly successful individuals who have contemplated and even attempted suicide, but then got the mental health care they needed to get healthier. Treating someone differently, or talking about them negatively because of their mental health issues perpetuates the problem. It’s also a bit hypocritical, since we all, at some point, will struggle with a mental health issue.
Take time to educate yourself on mental health issues and the diagnoses people have that they share with you. Watch how you talk to yourself and others about mental health. Stop walking on a sprained ankle or putting a band-aid on a broken leg. Recognize how normal it is to have mental health issues and encourage yourself, and those around you, to seek out mental health care early on. Resources are available online and in your city/town. All you have to do is ask!
Katie Rössler is a licensed professional counselor from the United States. After living in Munich for about a year with her husband and two girls, she started Positive Connections providing workshops on relationship building skills. Katie enjoys running, hiking, and doing yoga. In 2013, she completed a yoga streak and is hoping to do another in the future. Katie believes in the importance of self-care, especially during difficult life stages, and enjoys helping people to grow.