Mental Health and Why We Need to Be Proactive About Caring for It

We will do anything to make the physical spaces we live in beautiful. We will clean out the closets, get rid of clutter, and wash our windows. We will swap out the old with the new and refreshing. We will do all of this and not even give it another thought.

But our minds—the only spaces we truly cannot leave—often receive less love and care, less priority than our physical spaces. Our minds are hidden, the illnesses plaguing so many of them are invisible, and as such, our mental health is often not making it to our lists of priorities.

As the snow melts and we’re all thinking about how to make use of our longer, sunnier days, I’ve got something to add to our spring project lists: sprucing up our mental health.

To bring into focus the urgent need of prioritizing our mental health, a statistic:

A key finding from Mental Health America’s 2019 report states that more than half of adults in the US with a mental illness do not receive treatment. This totals more than twenty-seven million people who are not being treated for their mental struggles, and it does not include adolescents, nor does it reflect the scurge of difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Perhaps part of the discrepancy between patients and those being treated professionally is the nomenclature. To admit to having anxiety or depression is one thing, but adopting the terminology “mental illness” somehow seems more prescriptive, as if by acknowledging that you have a mental illness, you’re submitting to something you’ve historically been able to hide. It seems to me that this is part of the reason a staggering twenty-seven million adults are not being treated; because the words we use to talk about mental illness turn off those who are already reluctant to admit they’re having a hard time.

But we need to admit this. We need to treat our minds like we treat our homes and make sure they are clean and sturdy, prepared to keep us safe. And one of the best ways to do this is with professional help.

To illustrate the power of professional help, a story:

My daughter was ten months old. Her tiny body was as blistering as the hot stones a masseuse delicately places along your spine. Her post-nap lethargy was supercharged by a fever. I put her on my bed to examine her, and she began to convulse. My baby was having a seizure and I thought she was going to die. It was the longest two minutes of my life.

As soon as the paramedics arrived and strapped her into the ambulance, I learned that she very likely had a fever-induced seizure, something the ER doctor told me was far more destructive to a witness’s psyche than to the child’s body. Even so, the trauma of the experience lingers. This was four years ago.

A couple of months after the seizures (she had another one eleven days later), I was visiting my midwife and I told her about the terror I experienced during the episodes. She suggested I see a therapist and she made an urgent referral so that I’d be seen immediately.

I’ll digress here to say that everybody should be so lucky to have this kind of medical intervention. Had I not been nudged toward a therapist, I may not have sought one out until my anxiety became even more paralyzing. But I met with a therapist then, and I still meet with her today on a biweekly basis. I still talk about the seizures. I just brought ’em up this week. Those seizures, which totaled a mere five minutes of my life, gripped me so ruthlessly that I still suffer from the experiences. When my children are sick, when a pandemic sweeps through the planet, my anxiety surges.

But I am doing well, and I know this is because I prioritize my mental health. Namely, this is because of therapy.

Therapy requires some of our most precious finite resources—time and money. It makes sense to me why some people are opposed to it. I would argue, however, that our mental health is equally as important a resource, and one that is worthy of all of our other resources. Fortunately, the rise of teletherapy platforms has helped chip away at inaccessibility by making therapy more lifestyle friendly, requiring less time and often less money than traditional therapy.

Forbes analyzed different online therapy platforms, taking into consideration cost, ease, and other features, in this summary, if teletherapy is something you’re interested in.

Cleaning up our mental health is more than just adding therapy to our list of spring projects. It also means giving ourselves breaks when we need them, exercising regularly, and spending time nurturing our relationships. Mostly, it means bringing our mental health to the top of our priority lists.

We are all better—every single one of us—when we take care of our mental health.

We are all better—every single one of us—when we take care of our mental health. I am no statistician but I imagine that very often when people need therapy, they need a nudge from an outside party before they pursue it. Sometimes you just need a stranger to say, go take care of your mental health. I’m hoping I can be that outside party for you.

So, to send the message home, a prompt:

Please, go take care of your mind. Add it to your list. Treat it like it’s your home. Because, of course, it is.

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