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A Google search of the term “mental health” yields about 1,120,000,000 results. The most common search terms associated with “mental health” include “awareness month”, “awareness”, “statistics”, “definition”, “quotes”, “facts”, “association”, “disorders”, and “issues”. Simply put, mental health is defined as “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being”. While there is clearly an abundance of data both online and in print surrounding mental health, there continue to be misconceptions and misunderstandings about what it all means. This has an impact on how we, both individually and collectively, view and treat mental health conditions.
Mental health myths
One of the most common myths surrounding mental health is that one is either mentally healthy or mentally ill. The reality is that one’s state of being exists on a continuum. A person that is generally mentally healthy may experience emotional problems, changes in behavior, or have strained and unhealthy relationships with others. A person that is diagnosed with a mental illness may experience moments of clarity and be highly functional. The presence of illness does not always impede upon one’s ability to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.
We know that mental illness includes a wide range of conditions that affect one’s thinking, mood, and behavior. Psychotherapists, psychologists, social workers, and mental health counselors use a combination of techniques, which are driven by theories and evidence-based treatment models, to challenge faulty thinking, regulate mood, and improve maladaptive and dysfunctional behavior. Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in mental health, including substance use disorders. They are qualified to assess and treat both the mental and physical aspects of mental illness, and can prescribe medications to do so.
When someone is sick with symptoms of the flu, they seek medical attention to treat their symptoms and alleviate suffering. Diabetics take medications to control their blood sugar, and epileptics take anti-consultants for seizure control. Mental illness is a type of human pathology that requires treatment, which is generally a combination of psychotherapy and medications. It usually takes a treatment team of qualified professionals to effectively treat mental illness.
Because mental health symptoms can wax and wane, someone can experience emotional stability but become vulnerable to their illness, or be very ill yet maintain a stable life. Just as someone can live and function with the flu virus, diabetes, or epilepsy, so too can someone live and function with mental illness. However, living with a medical condition can make life extremely difficult, as can living with a mental illness. There is no shame in seeking treatment for mental illness, and it is okay to not be okay. We are all better off for it when we can recognize and accept the presence of illness, in whatever form it may be, and to whatever extreme it may be present, and take the appropriate steps to treat and manage it.
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Delaina Fico, LMSW is a Social Worker at the Arc of Monroe.