Oktober 4-10 is mental health awareness week.
*Those who are currently in the throes of a mental health challenge may think this post is too simplistic or upbeat. Just keep in mind that I wouldn't be writing this if this if I hadn't witnessed, firsthand and through those I love, the helplessness of mental health challenges AND the unfathomable improvement that can come when you finally get the care and healing you need.*
Sometimes people think of mental illness like a viral physical disease, such as chicken pox. Either you have it, or you don't. I think a better comparison is chronic conditions such as diabetes, or a thyroid disorder. While they are as real as chicken pox, they are measured on a spectrum, not dichotomously, and while they are not entirely in our control, there are usually some things we can to that will help us manage (or at least not exacerbate) the condition. Sometimes, even if we are taking perfect care of ourselves, we'll have flare ups anyway. Sometimes we'll require treatment and/or medication to manage. It's something we may or may not actively struggle with our whole life.
I think one reason people tend to not like talking about mental illness, is they don't want to be put in a box. NAMI's focus for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is #Iamstigmafree. If you tell someone you Have Depression, will they think you're broken for the rest of your life? Will they take you seriously when you're sad? Will they blame your behavior on your disease? Will they want a friend/spouse/employee who is less damaged, more resilient?
Just like no one has complete, perfect physical health in every way, no one has absolutely complete, perfect mental health. We all have weaknesses, and we can all take better care of ourselves.
There's a scripture that I love which I think strongly applies to mental health:
Ether 12:27 "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then I will make weak things become strong unto them."
The Lord doesn't promise to always take away the things that make us weak. He says that He can make our weak things strong. I think that could mean even in spite of what makes us weak.
We love stories of people who overcome the odds, rags to riches, quadriplegic to Olympic champion. There is glory in triumphing, despite things that make us weak. In fact, that propensity to be weak adds so much more to the glory, it doesn't detract. We all have our crosses to bear. Be grateful for chances to triumph despite weakness.
Now, there are times of crisis, where the things below may not apply. But I'm talking more about people who are somewhere on the spectrum of mental health, who have weaknesses but are still functioning.
Some things to remember if you or someone you love struggles with mental health:
1. Just as no one is in perfect physical health, no one is in perfect mental health.
Admitting you are not perfect does not have to put you in a box, it just means that you have weaknesses, just like everybody else.
2. People with mental health issues can still have valid thoughts and feelings.
Disregarding hurt feelings just because someone has depression is not appropriate. Disregarding someone's concern, just because they have anxiety is not appropriate. It is necessary at times to make adjustments for those who are not super functional, but just like those with physical health conditions, most people with mental health conditions just want you to treat them normally and help them live as close to a normal life as possible.
3. Your disease is not a crutch.
By the same token, if you have a mental illness, don't use it to excuse your behavior. You may need some extra help and understanding from those around you, but you are still responsible for you. Getting as close to your potential as possible should be your goal. Don't let your illness become an excuse to stop trying. It means you must try harder. By try harder, I don't mean that you have to fake being okay more, or force yourself into very uncomfortable situations for you. No, I mean that you must try harder to take care of yourself so that you are able to be more functional during the time you are able to function normally.
4. Take care of yourself.
There are varying diseases, disorders, and complicated mental issues. Find what works for you. Find what you need. Then commit to it. If you have anxiety and you realize you need three nights a week alone to be functional, give that to yourself. If you have depression and you realize that you need to sleep 9 hours and exercise daily to feel functional, give that to yourself. If you have PTSD, that might mean saying no to scary/violent movies that will trigger you. RESIST the urge to feel guilty for self-care. Making yourself more functional is the best way to give of yourself to other people. Don't burn yourself out, that's mean. Treat yourself with care and respect.
5. Get treated when things get bad.
Some people need constant help treating mental health issues. Many people do not require such consistent treatment, but they do require it from time to time. Don't think that just because you've been treated and are in a good place, that you will never need treatment again. Keep in touch with how you are doing. When you feel yourself struggling, get help before it gets out of control. If you need to be put on suicide watch, please instigate that. If you need someone to report to, find a friend or therapist. If you need medication, find a doctor and get access to what you are in need of.
6. There is a reason for everything.
Sometimes, people think/act/feel poorly because they have a weak character, or are not trying. They need to change.
But most often, when people do bad, it's because they are struggling. Learn to give people the benefit of the doubt.
When a friend never wants to hang out anymore, realize that they are probably depressed, not rude or boring.
When someone can't concentrate, is fidgety, uptight and cries all the time, realize that they're not just being a baby, they might have PTSD.
When someone won't stop talking negatively about their body, realize that they're probably not shallow, they may have an eating disorder/body dismorphia.
If you experienced their trama, genes and life, maybe you would be behaving the same way, or even worse.
7. Triumph doesn't just mean being disease-free.
Can you be mentally healthy when you've struggled with depression? When you've been through trama? When you've dealt with OCD or addiction? I think yes :) There is hope. There is learning. We all have our crosses to bear. Like President Holland says, you can't fix everything with just square shoulders and positive thinking. Even with treatment, some people will not overcome mental illnesses in this life. But that doesn't mean there are no victories. Learning to excel in your own way with what you have been given is a triumph. Saying hello to someone when you're depressed is a triumph. Breathing through an anxiety attack and being able to finish the day is a triumph.
In Dieter F. Uchtdorf's talk, "Forget Me Not," he says of our efforts to improve and succeed, "In the meantime, be thankful for all the small successes in your home, your family relationships, your education and livelihood, your Church participation and personal improvement. Like the forget-me-nots, these successes may seem tiny to you and they may go unnoticed by others, but God notices them and they are not small to Him. If you consider success to be only the most perfect rose or dazzling orchid, you may miss some of life's sweetest experiences."
8. You can still be resilient.
One of the worst things is thinking that you're broken beyond repair. I testify that you are not :) You can get through anything. And if success for you doesn't look the same as success for someone else, that's okay. We can always work on becoming more functional and resilient, despite our shortcomings, in our own way, and with the help of the Lord. When dealing with yourself and others, remember: