how's your head?

May 10, 2017 Roobs Leiser

i don’t like the 1 in 4 statistic. if we try to gauge the prevalence, and importance, of mental health issues using a stat like ‘1 in 4’ we’ll never get anywhere. 1 in 4 of us (data that’s probably out of date by now anyway) will be diagnosed with a mental or neurological disorder at some point during our lives. that’s what the 1 in 4 stat is. what that absolutely doesn’t mean, is that only 1 in 4 of us will struggle with our mental health at some point. mental health and a clinical diagnosis of a mental disorder are different things - and that’s where awareness falls short. 
what so many of us fail to realise is that we all have 'mental health’. mental health is the state of wellbeing that our minds are in, and that’s something that everyone has to contend with. using statistics about the number of people who will experience this is, arguably, totally damaging because it constructs a culture of ‘us vs them’ where mental health is concerned - which is not only unhelpful, but quite simply wrong. ‘1 in 4’ suggests that we are in some way predisposed to a mental health issue, that you can either be the 1 in the 4 or you’re one of the other 3. but our mental health is a constantly evolving state, which can change and shift and move back & forth in one of two directions along a very long spectrum. 
the point that so many people fail to grasp is that everything we feel is a product of our mental health. and i think that so many among us perhaps feel like they don’t have a right to speak out for/about mental health because they’ve never received a clinical diagnosis, despite suffering from many of the symptoms that they know to be shared. the feelings that people in a clinical context (i.e. living with an official diagnosis of, for example, depression) to those in a non-clinical context (i.e. ‘just’ feeling depressed) are not different. the differences that matter to a GP are where severity, length of time, and impact on daily life are involved. but sadness is sadness, and anxiousness is anxiousness, and panic is panic. mental health isn’t only for people who are living with a doctor’s evaluation of their experience. 
we need to encourage a more general expression of mental health - at all points along the spectrum. if you’ve ever been desperately sad or scared or lost or confused or irrational or self-sabotaging then you have witnessed a glimpse into the experience of mental health issues, and you can not only empathise with those suffering - but you can also understand the importance of being kind to yourself and looking after your mind’s wellbeing through self-care, mindfulness, and learning the small things that can salvage your day when it feels lost to sadness.
it often feels like the discussion about mental health takes one of two forms - the poetic, romantic, glamorisation of the experience that tumblr and aesthetic instagram posts perpetuates, or a very clinical take on things that contains a lot of acronyms and terms that people who have no diagnostic background while be both intimidated and put off by. we need to get better at discussing mental health simply as an extension of everyday feelings. yes, they’re on a different scale. yes, they affect us differently. yes, it’s important to distinguish the difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety, feeling sad and having depression - but it’s also important to acknowledge that one can lead to the other. it’s unfair and exclusionary of those of us suffering from ‘real’ mental disorders to keep the discussion among those who can ‘prove’ their struggle. the more our society, as a whole, is willing to be open & honest in our daily experience (that applies to faking perfect lives on insta to wanting men to ‘man up’ and everything in between), the more we will stop seeing mental health as a ‘1 in 4’ thing. we all have a duty to care - regardless if we’re the 1 or one of the other 3. mental health issues are not something that any of us are exempt from. be kind, and remember that being able to help someone either by sharing your experience or by listening to theirs is compassion personified. don’t waste it.

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