Building on the fantastic blog post Jaslin created about Social Wellness Month, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the specifics of mental health, since this is an area of particular interest and importance to me. This past year, I took a class at Vanderbilt University called “Fundamental Issues of Medicine, Health, and Society.” While the course provided me with an immense amount of knowledge on all aspects of health, the beginning activity that my class completed turned out to be the most important thing I learned. Our professor handed out an anonymous survey with a list of mental disorders: depression, anxiety, various types of eating disorders, drug addictions, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more. We were asked to check a box next to the disorder if we 1. Had the disorder ourselves, 2. Had a family member with the disorder, 3. Knew a friend with the disorder, or 4. Had no experience with the disorder at all. The results were shocking; in a class of forty students, each and every person had some connection to a mental illness. 70% of the class had a friend with depression; 38% of the class had a family member with anxiety, while 20% of the class had an anxiety disorder themselves (Muse, Vanderbilt University, 2016). It can be easy to discount mental health because someone “looks fine” or “acts normal,” but seeing these staggering statistics really opened my eyes to the epidemic of poor mental health, especially among young college students.
Since that class, I have made it my mission to advocate for better mental health for students on my campus. Mental health issues are deeply stigmatized since mental health problems are truly invisible illnesses. This can prohibit many individuals from seeking the help that they desperately need. Additionally, other factors, like socioeconomic status, gender, level of education, and urban vs. rural location can also determine whether an individual seeks and/or has access to sufficient treatment.
At this point, you may be wondering why someone with a mental disorder even needs treatment. A huge misconception is that diseases affecting our mental health don’t need help, since they are not physical illnesses. “Why can’t someone with depression just ‘be happy’?” “Why can’t someone with anxiety just ‘calm down’?” And the truth is, these disorders are far more complex than simply changing the way someone acts; someone who prescribes to the previous line of thinking is only helping to contribute to the misconception that mental illnesses are not as serious as physical ones.
But, taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health. According to the U.S. Department of health and human services, our mental health “affects how we think, feel, and act.” Additionally, it helps to “determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices” (mentalhealth.gov). Taking care of our mental health is important because it allows us to keep track of our stress levels and feelings before they can spiral into a disorder. How can we do this? For one, as Jaslin mentioned in the Social Wellness blog post, keeping a good group of friends around you is key. Being able to talk through issues and negative feelings you may be having is extremely helpful in lowering stress levels. Secondly, alternative stress treatments like exercise, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are all helpful in maintaining positive mental health. Third, speaking to a therapist and seeking professional treatment, possibly with medication, have proven very successful for many people. While this option can often be stigmatized, there is absolutely no reason for that; taking care of our minds is just as important as taking care of our bodies.
And, if you are still wary, I will leave you with a quote from a psychologist friend of mine: “Treating mental illness with medication is no different from treating a physical illness. You wouldn’t deny a diabetic of their insulin, would you? Why should medications for a mental disorder be any different?”