It seems like conversations regarding mental health occur in an ebb and flow kind of manner, at least in my life. In the past few weeks I have discussed mental health concerns more than I have in years. The first thing that always crosses my mind when the topic comes up is that each and every one of us has mental health. While some may perceive their mental health to be more stable, less needing a label, and something they do not think about on a daily basis, it would be unfair, in my opinion, to think that said person does not have mental health. As I discuss the topic with students, I like to think about mental health on a spectrum that we are constantly sliding along. Yes, even as practitioners in the mental health field, we too have challenging mental health moments.
I think the idea that we all have mental health is one that needs to become more understood and accepted. Each of us will have sad moments, happy moments, moments of confusion, doubt, spend time worrying, and overly joyful for reasons unknown. This is all mental health. And, just like many people that have been given a formal mental health label, many of us that have not been given such labels can have drastic shifts in our health. For me, the moment I step out of my car and into nature, my mental health changes drastically. Let me give you an example. A few months back I went to Calgary, Alberta to visit my parents. My mood had been a little lower than my parents are used to with me not wanting to talk as much, feeling fairly tired, and yearning to return to my home in Victoria, British Columbia. On the Friday before my flight, I asked my parents if they would want to go to Banff National Park, a Canadian park we have visited hundreds of times and likely will visit hundreds of more times because of its close proximity to Calgary. During the drive to Banff, my parents talked, I responded to direct questions, but mostly I napped. The moment we stepped out of the car at Lake Louise, I was back to what my parents know of and expect of my personality. I had a hop in my step, I was chatty, and I joked continuously with my parents. It was a significant shift in behaviour rooted in my mental health.
How fitting, as I sit here writing about mental health, I get a text message from my mobile carrier, Bell Mobility, reminding me that Bell Let’s Talk day is coming up on January 25th, 2017. This is a day where every text message, call, tweet, Instagram post using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, Let’s Talk Facebook video viewing and using the Let’s Talk snapchat geofilter raises funds towards Mental Health programming.
Back to where I was originally headed, and fitting for Bell Let’s Talk day – while I believe that increased awareness of mental health is exactly what needs to be occurring, I think the next step is to start honouring the strength, courage, and commitment people who are impacted by higher levels of mental health concerns have. Each day these people get up, perhaps with difficulty, they put on a face that hides their inner feelings, and if and when they feel safe and comfortable they share it with those they feel they can trust. It is this strength that I am constantly in awe of. I have so much appreciation for the students that are able to come up to me following a class, typically within the first or second interactions we have, to tell me about the challenges they have learnt to mask in front of their peers, family members, and others in community. I have just as much, if not slightly more appreciation for those closest to me who are able to share. I think one of the reasons this feels more impactful (is that the right word?) is that there is no academic or professional implications of sharing their mental health status, the implication is personal. By sharing, do they risk losing a relationship, a support system, a part of their draw to stay mentally “sound”?
As we move forward and 2017 runs at a speed I have yet to experience a year flow at, I encourage you to stop and ponder your own mental health. What makes you smile, makes you feel a little low, or what helps alter your mood? Think about those that are openly and with great effort, strength, and courage sharing their story with you. What can you do to make it a little more comfortable and safe? Be there and Let’s Talk!