A language for mental health
Why I believe it’s important to talk about mental health
I am not a person of few words. Most of my writing on this blog literally overflows! So today in order to contain and capture my thoughts I have set a timer of 20 minutes to write about why I believe it’s important to talk about mental health.
Please forgive my directness, it’s not always a strength of mine but as I balance home-school, work and my own mental health, needs must as thanks to the virus, time is more my master than ever.
It’s important to talk about mental health…
...in that it’s beneficial for our mental health that we can talk about it, and not shut it away.. Ignoring it, keeping it secret, like it’s taboo, shameful or our deepest darkest self that must be hidden at all costs is not healthy and as someone who suffered symptoms of mental illness in almost silence for 25 years, I know this.
To break the sentence down a bit (please stay with me). When I say, I believe it's important, this is based on a few things. First-hand experience where I have been inspired by others speaking out about their experience of mental illness and recovery. Plus, in recent years (second-hand), in the increasing number of people who contact little old me, thanking me for my openness about life with Pure O, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)and depression, telling me they have been experiencing similar distress and now know they are not alone and deserve support too.
Perhaps important is not the right word.
It is necessary, crucial in my experience to talk about mental health. If we don’t talk about mental health (more), others never learn a mental health language - words for emotions, vocabulary to explain to others how we are thinking and feeling and experiencing our inner and outer worlds. Without language, none of us can communicate (speak or listen) when something is wrong or identify and act to build on what’s right and working well.
If we only have a vague sense of feeling or thinking (or being) good or bad, without any nuance or bigger picture, we are much more likely to fall into the black and white (polarised) thinking and the trap of shame. A very unmotivating and depressing emotion indeed. This shame often becomes what stops us, me included, in searching for a language to communicate effectively about mental health. And this makes it less likely for us to reach out for appropriate help whether our GPs, therapists, psychiatrists, our teacher, our coach, a peer, our friends or family.
Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness.
Did you know that evidence-based studies have demonstrated as scientifically as is possible, that a large chunk of the general population may be without (diagnosable level) symptoms of mental illness, but that a vast majority of still are not mentally healthy? Psychologists, practitioners and researchers have the opportunity now to work with and develop concepts about mental health as wellbeing and psychological flourishing and not just removing illness and dysfunction, meaning treatments and support is becoming in a more holistic and more human. Ideally mental health conversations could allow space and equal value to both positive and negative elements of mental health.
So mental health is the highs and the lows, the perceived weaknesses and strengths, the dark and the light etc. and we all know that we learn most from the scariest of these. Studying Applied Positive Psychology as a field has helped me to understand such concepts of mental health as including things like subjective wellbeing and ‘flourishing’ as the ideal state, including such things like hedonic happiness (pleasurable experiences) and eudaemonic happiness (meaningful albeit sometimes challenging), positive functioning and life satisfaction.
Importantly this field of study also highlights is also starting to identify that even those with symptoms of mental illness have the capacity to build on and experience high levels of wellbeing too. I am proof that you can build wellbeing whatever your starting point if you build this language and knowlege..
A Mental Health Language
To me my experience of managing my illness epitomises the benefits of talking about mental health, sharing lived experiences of mental illness and of expeiences building wellbeing. I think such a mental health language, talking about mental health is the most effective way to improve everyone’s mental health whether access to support or opportunities for growth.
So it is important to talk about mental health…
...and those of us with lived experience are in unique position to develop this conversation. in doing so we can maximise our strengths and learnings from the challenge of seeking help for, managing and/or recovering from mental illness. And in turn translate what we know to others, who can benefit regarding of their mental health status.
To find out more about Positive Psychology you can click here or check out the references below.
Thanks for reading (hope it wasn’t too long – 37 mins in the end plus edits)
Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(2), 207–222. https://doi.org/10.2307/3090197
Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 719–727.
Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069-1081.
Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.
Slade M. Mental illness and well-being: the central importance of positive psychology and recovery approaches. BMC Health Serv Res. 2010;10:26. Published 2010 Jan 26. doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-26.
NB. Don't be put off by the name! Positive Psychology is about learning from the best in ourselves and others, not forcing positivity. For more info google 'Second Wave positive psychology'. For a more general introduction of the kind of stuff that I study that's helped my conversations about mental health you can visit here