When we think of the phrase ‘mental health,’ we often picture the opposite of those two words — we picture the stigma of mental illness.
As a society, I think we view mental health and mental illness as a dichotomy — placing them on two separate ends of a spectrum, assuming that we are either mentally healthy or mentally ill.
This is a risky misperception, leading us toward separation rather than togetherness.
But we can visualize a new association for this phrase by defining ‘mental health’ exactly how it sounds, as the health of our minds.
When we reframe it this way we realize one simple, glaring, obvious and life changing little truth:
We all have a mind.
And, more importantly, we all experience times of feeling really put together and healthy and times of feeling beaten down and mentally unhealthy.
Because mental health is truly a continuum—with fluidity and movement occurring on a daily basis.
That experience is so beautifully human.
Therefore, focusing on our mental health is simply about setting an intention to move the notch on that proverbial continuum toward a healthier mind; to understand that no matter where we currently fall on this continuum — we all have room to become mentally healthier.
So if we chose to see mental health as a continuum, rather than as a dichotomy, how might we benefit?
1. We just might realize that we ALL need a little help sometimes.
No one is completely immune to the inner workings of the mind. The experience of occasionally feeling mentally unhealthy is universal. Once we see this, we might be more willing to let someone in so we can navigate the harder times together. We may recognize that there is beauty in unity and understand that we are not alone in our experiences.
“When I becomes WE, even ILLNESS becomes WELLNESS.” — Unknown
2. We might not feel ashamed when our spirit is depleted. Our entire belief system surrounding mental health can change, replacing embarrassment with embracement. Through consistently bringing awareness to our mental health needs, we might become so attuned to the shifts in our continuum that we actually feel pride in our ability to detect the onset of a downward spiral and we do something about it almost immediately.
3. We could finally welcome the need for a mental break — or a mental health day to rejuvenate. Just as we might see a doctor if we aren’t feeling physically healthy — we recognize that we could see a therapist if we aren’t feeling mentally healthy. Or, we could make some time for meditation, yoga, or another practice that promotes mental clarity, an opportunity to re-center, and provides relief from our thoughts.
If we could remove the stigma surrounding mental health and show that yes, highs and lows are a part of life, good days and bad days make us human, and struggles and insecurities are okay, then maybe, just maybe, we will be more inclined to ask for help.
Help at a time that could be life changing, maybe even life saving.
Because the times when we want to shut down and isolate are the times when we need to own up to our stuff and let it out, to free ourselves of the build up that occurs when our negative thoughts and emotions manifest.
So choose to see mental health as an opportunity for mental wellness in yourself and in others, to recognize that as a continuum — it can shift from one day to the next.
Choose to accept that all of us, no matter how put together we might seem, can devote more intentional energy to maintaining mental health and wellness, reaping the benefits of making peace with the ebb and flow of our mental states.
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.