Three Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Mental Health
As a society, we have come a long way in understanding mental health. From my perspective, it seems that in general, we are less averse to asking for help and more willing to talk vulnerably about our struggles and the way we see God working through even the bleakest of states and circumstances. However, as a marriage and family therapist, I can’t help but feel that we still have room to grow in our understanding of what mental health means for all of us. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share three things that have been helpful for me in understanding myself and others when it comes to this issue.
1.) Mental health is not a choice AND we have choices
We cannot control what emotional experiences come to visit at a given time in our lives. Anxiety can show up uninvited. Depression can be like a guest that overstays their welcome, refusing to walk out the door no matter what attempts we have made. These experiences are not defects in a person’s identity or a reflection of the individual’s personal efforts. However, even if the unpleasant emotional state is not a choice, we do have choices. In other words, even if these feelings should persist, we have a choice about what we will do with those feelings. It is not possible to eradicate all pain from our lives. But here, we do have the opportunity to be a good steward of our pain as we make choices that are constructive in our relationship with others and ourselves.
2.) The question is always, "How can I grow?"
Mental health is not simply a question of whether we are healthy or not. Health is a spectrum, not a box to be checked. If we have been blessed by a life of little struggle in this area, it can be easy to exclude ourselves from the need to grow. Alternatively, if we are all too familiar with what it is like to fight for peace and joy, we can easily assume that we are broken and incapable of growth. No matter what end of the spectrum we find ourselves on at a given time, we are all responsible for answering the same question: How is God asking me to grow?
3.) Speak truth to feel truth
In many ways the most powerful voice that informs our feelings about our identity and safety is our own. Certainly God’s voice is significant and speaks a multitude of truths about our value and safety in His economy. Many of us could also recall a time when other people have spoken truth into us that has changed the way we see ourselves and helped us to feel safe and empowered. But the reality is, it is the voice inside our head that is the loudest. It acts as a filter and has the ability to accept or reject truth that comes in from the outside. Therefore, learning to speak truth to ourselves is the key to being able to receive it from others. This will often mean claiming truth before we necessarily feel it. A colleague of mine often says, “We can think and act our way into a new way of feeling. But we cannot feel our way into a new way of thinking and acting.” Truth is a choice, not a feeling. But the more we hear the truth, the better chance we have of knowing truth in the deepest parts of ourselves.
This month is not just a month to bring awareness to those who would say that they struggle with mental health or for those of us who have ever been given an official diagnosis. Rather, this month provides an opportunity for every one of us to reflect and ask ourselves, “What is the next step God is asking me to take when it comes to becoming more mentally healthy?” How would you answer that question?