The acceptance and discussion of mental health has improved in recent years compared to decades ago. However, there is still room for improvement, and it’s crucial that we continue to strive towards having open and honest discussions about mental health. Here are some of the reasons it is so important.
Talking is the first step in getting help
By talking about mental health, you can help someone to spot signs of issues and get help. Many people keep things to themselves or compare their situation to others and assume they don’t have a mental health issue because their circumstances or symptoms differ. Talking can reveal how different people experience various problems and demonstrate that there isn’t just one way of reacting to mental illness.
By encouraging more people to talk about what mental health can look like and how it manifests itself, you can become part of the positive change. A qualification, such as an online mental health counseling degree, can qualify you to help others. Prioritizing mental health shows people that this is just as important as taking care of their body and other physical ailments. St. Bonaventure offers courses that can be studied online, which is ideal if you want to keep working while you study.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five U.S. adults is living with a mental illness. However, the true figure could be much higher because some people try to avoid talking about it out of a fear of being viewed as weak. If you decide to work with people who have a mental illness, part of your role will be to encourage conversations related to this topic so they can admit they are struggling and ask for help. Being able to listen and demonstrate an understanding without showing judgment will help them feel more comfortable opening up to you.
Normalizing mental illness
It’s also important to normalize mental illness, not only because this is now a normal part of life for so many people, but also to encourage more people to be open about it. There are now so many factors that can contribute to issues such as anxiety and depression and exacerbate them.
If you’re working with vulnerable people, it can help them if you talk openly about mental health and encourage them to do the same, while educating them or their family on how to deal with it as a normal part of life. Speaking about it openly can demonstrate that this is not abnormal. It validates the way people feel and can encourage their friends and family to support them.
Showing people with mental illness how to help themselves can provide them with coping mechanisms. This is a much better way to reassure them that their experiences are normal, rather than avoiding talking about these issues.
The media can sensationalize issues such as mental illness. Often they will include eye-catching headlines and images of celebrities having public breakdowns. This can only heighten the feeling of being abnormal for those who suffer from a genuine mental illness. A lot of work still needs to be done to counteract this and show that mental illness is completely normal.
Showing that anyone can suffer from mental illness
Being open shows that anyone can experience mental illness. It might seem like conditions such as depression should only affect those who have a tangible reason to feel depressed, or anxiety only happens to people in stressful jobs. However, neither of these things are true.
It can be more difficult for someone who has a lot of friends, a great job that they love, few or no money worries, and a busy social life to admit they have a problem. It’s not easy for them to put into words how they feel, and those who have more stressful or demanding lives might judge them and say they should be grateful for what they have. This isn’t a helpful approach, and it makes people shut down and act like everything is normal because they are expected to be okay.
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and should be taken seriously, regardless of the age, gender, race, or class of the person affected by it. Often the cause can be something in our brains, which is why medication can help. Although outside factors can play a part or aggravate the condition, they are rarely the sole cause.
The more discussions we have to highlight this, the more we can reduce the feeling of guilt or the idea that someone should be okay because they have a lot of good things in their life. This will encourage more people to seek help sooner.
Encouraging employers to be more supportive
An open discussion on mental health can benefit employees in the workplace. It can enable employers to gain an understanding of the issue and those affected by it, in addition to making reasonable adjustments.
Some employees might need flexible working hours. For example, they might struggle to get up early due to their mental illness or as a result of their medication. They may also be unable to sleep until much later. Therefore, their working hours could be adjusted by introducing hybrid working conditions where they start later in the day, work several hours in the office, and then do the rest of their work from home.
This would make work more accessible for people who are struggling as a result of poor mental health and make it easier for more people to work who previously would have had to settle for part-time work or take sick time from work for long periods of time. The more flexible approach would benefit both the employee and their employer because more work would be completed to the required standards and the employee wouldn’t feel pressured or like the workplace was worsening their condition.
In a supportive work environment, employees would feel more comfortable talking to their employer and discussing their mental health in the same way they would talk about physical problems.
Increasing awareness in the workplace
Many workplaces encourage employees to compete against each other through contests such as employee of the month. This can make it difficult for anyone who is struggling. It might encourage some people to work harder and get rewarded, but for those who have mental health issues and whose main struggle is getting to work and doing what is required of them, the extra competitive factor can become too much.
A more supportive workplace will encourage employees to work together in teams, using the strengths and abilities of each person. This will make it easier to discuss problems, including those related to mental illness. For example, if one person needs to complete some of their work alone or from home, the others can be more understanding and offer to organize any related meetings remotely so everyone can still be included and stay informed of any important changes or updates.
Most importantly, by making it easier to talk to colleagues about mental illness, the workplace can feel like a safer and more supportive place. Again, this benefits the employees and the employer, as well as their colleagues. It can help to avoid misunderstandings and ensure the required amount of work is completed each day on terms that work better for the employee.
Training in the workplace is a good way to encourage this type of discussion, and so are regular informal meetings where people are made to feel like they can discuss problems openly and find solutions.
Talking and acceptance can reduce the burden
Talking about mental health can be beneficial in getting friends and family to help and be more understanding. Talk therapies such as counseling can also help a person express themselves, often discovering things they hadn’t thought about, such as reasons for the way they feel or solutions that could help. It can lead to acceptance and the comfort that comes from knowing they are not the only person to experience some aspects of mental illness.
Being accepted by loved ones and able to accept themselves doesn’t mean not trying to make positive changes or get help. However, it takes away some of the pressure and reassures them it’s okay to feel the way they do, and they learn ways to manage their condition. Often, they can use a combination of therapy, medication, and positive changes in their lifestyle to live a better life than they have previously.
Acceptance also means understanding that bad days still happen and not letting them spiral by feeling like they have let everyone down on these days. Therapy groups can be beneficial because they give people a better understanding of what others with the same or other conditions are experiencing and the methods they use to deal with these barriers or problems. It reduces the burden of having to either be better every day or pretend to be better.
Making people aware of the different types of mental illness
Being able to talk about mental illness can help people to understand that this blanket term covers so many conditions. Depression and anxiety are just two of them. Extreme phobias that prevent people from living their lives to the fullest could fall under the umbrella of mental illness, as can OCD or schizophrenia.
An open discussion and readily available information on the different aspects of mental illness can help people spot the signs, not just in themselves but in close friends and family members. The old-fashioned approach to ignoring mental health and pushing on has never been healthy.
These issues won’t go away if untreated. Instead, they are more likely to worsen and manifest in other ways, causing the person with this condition to inadvertently harm themselves by pushing people away, turning to addictive substances, performing poorly at work, or losing their job because they lose the motivation to leave their home.
Special awareness days are helpful, but they can only do so much to make people aware of the different types of mental illness. In addition, everyone is different, so the way one person reacts or is affected by their specific mental illness can differ from another person’s reaction with the same diagnosis. Sharing the common signs for each one is a good start, but it’s helpful to remind people that everyone is unique and people will rarely fall neatly into a list of symptoms. Some people will also experience a mix of mental health problems, and this can make it harder for them or those around them to understand. The more we talk about these issues, the more we can encourage others to seek help when they feel they need it.
Getting a better idea of the help and support needed
There is a lot of support and help available to people with mental illness, but this could still be improved and expanded. With more openness around the topic, these services could be adapted to meet the increased need. People could also be referred to the relevant organizations and groups by opening up and speaking to their doctor.
Although some people find these groups for themselves, they might not offer the right support for them and can prevent them from seeking help elsewhere. This doesn’t mean the group isn’t well-run, but considering the different types of mental illness and different people’s experiences with them, not every place that offers help and support will be suitable for everyone.
It can take time to find the right support that speaks to someone personally and delivers help in a way they can understand and relate to. Some people need a more emotional approach to talk through everything and have their experiences validated while taking time away from their usual routine. Others want to be more active in their recovery and treatment and are able to work around their mental health. Neither of these approaches are wrong; they are just different. With more discussion, the different ways of supporting people can be more accessible and easier to find.
Avoiding other health issues
There are several reasons mental illness can lead to or aggravate some physical health conditions. The extra stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart problems and a lack of sleep. These are all harmful and can have further complications.
Depression can be a major factor in overeating, or it can lead to more dangerous addictions, putting extra strain on the body. It becomes a vicious cycle of making the person feel worse but continuing to do these things to make themselves feel better – yet ultimately feeling much worse after the initial enjoyment or high is over.
Mental illness can also make it more difficult to get treatment because there can be a stigma around the physical aspects of any medical condition it has contributed to, making some people feel like they have done this to themselves. However, talking about mental illness and the way it causes people to react can help the person suffering to understand and help others to empathize, including those who may have been judgmental.
When advice is given out to patients to exercise and change their diet, it might seem unrealistic to expect these changes to improve their mental health. However, a healthier diet can still help to look after the body and exercise can release endorphins, which is a more natural high than that gained from drugs, alcohol or excessive eating but without the guilt factor that often follows it. Although these changes are not a cure for mental illness, they can contribute to feeling a little better and reducing the risks of physical health problems, which are likely to make the person feel worse.
Reducing the number of suicides
For many people, keeping their thoughts and feelings to themselves can make them feel helpless, isolated and unable to cope. Therefore, it makes sense that talking openly about their struggles could be a good way to feel better or at least reduce some of these negative feelings.
The American Federation for Suicide Protection named suicide as the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. during 2020. There were 1.20 million suicide attempts, and more than 45,000 of these people died. This difference between the figures could suggest that people rarely want to die, but many of them most likely wanted some kind of help but didn’t know how to communicate this to those around them. There is no way of knowing how many just wanted help, but having someone to talk to may have been enough to prevent them from attempting suicide.
If nothing else, many of these people could have been directed to services set up to help them if they felt like they were able to talk about their struggles. This would have at least helped some people who were struggling.
As you can see, mental health is a complex issue, and there is no one way to treat everyone. However, one of the steps in getting help is talking to someone. The more discussions there are around the subject, the more people will feel like it’s okay not to be okay. If you decide to pursue a career in counseling, you can become an important part in changing how people feel about their own mental health.
A professional writer with over a decade of incessant writing skills. Her topics of interest and expertise range from health, nutrition and psychology.