According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition for the word fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger” and synonyms to the word fear include words like alarm, panic or even terror.
Generally, it’s an uncomfortable feeling to experience a sense of fear in our lives, but the phenomenon of fear has also served an evolutionary purpose of helping humans to survive, and even thrive, at the top of the food chain.
Yet the experience of fear continues to exist in the world when there is a pervasive misunderstanding or lack of education when it comes to certain situations that may not warrant this type of response. Mental health concerns are an example of a fear that many people have, usually from a lack of understanding about what this actually means.
Throughout this article we will explore more about the concept of mental health, and how to reduce the stigma that exists in the world today around mental health concerns.
What is Mental Health?
Let’s first explore a definition and some statistics around mental health, so that we can start to expand our understanding of this word and reflect on the experience of mental health as something that impacts every single person in the world regardless of race, colour, ethnicity or gender.
Here is one of the best definitions I have found so far:
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood” (mentalhealth.gov).
In other words, our mental health is connected to many different aspects of our lives, and even though it may be happening within ourselves, it also has the ability to impact on the relationships we have with others, or the choices we make throughout our lives.
Mental health can also be seen on a spectrum and always changing depending on what is happening in our lives, as well as other factors including chemical or hormonal influences.
Consider your own mental health for the moment.. How would you describe how you are feeling right now? You might use words such as curious, relaxed or content.. Or perhaps things are not going so well for you today and you are feeling sad, hopeless or overwhelmed.
These descriptions of your current emotional state are part of what makes up your mental health, and can be different for each person.
Some statics about mental health issues from the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Mental health is one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide
- An estimated 300 million people in the world are experiencing depression
- Almost 1 million people each year die due to suicide each year
- More than 40% of countries have no mental health policy
- Many mental health conditions are treatable
Additional reading: The Difference Between Depression Versus Sadness
Who is Impacted by Mental Health Concerns?
Now that we have an understanding that we all experience mental health throughout our lives and that this is a typical human experience, rather than something to fear, let’s now turn our attention to individuals who are impacted by mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression.
Chances are, you have experienced some type of anxiety in your life. Consider your first time taking a test at school.. Was your mind racing and your heart beating super fast? This is an experience of anxiety. What about the first time you saw a crush or someone you connected with romantically..
Those butterflies in your stomach and sweaty palms can be related to an experience of anxiety, as well!
And although experiences of anxiety can be completely normal and may even happen every day, there can also be experiences of extreme anxiety that is so impactful for a person that it interrupts their day-to-day life to the point that it makes it impossible to function, work, or even be around other people.
These instances may relate to an example of an anxiety disorder that could be diagnosed and also treated by a professional or by learning ways to cope through these experiences.
Some facts about experiences of mental health concerns:
- Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures
- Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives
- Genetic, biological, personality & environmental factors causes mental illnesses
- Almost one half of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem
- Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community
Additional reading: Impact & Consequences of Anxiety
Now that we have more of an understanding of the fact that mental health is an experience we all have, and that mental health concerns can range from a daily experience of feeling stress or anxiety in our lives, to something that can become detrimental to our lives, the question remains…
How can we each help to reduce the stigma around mental health concerns in the world?
The first suggestion is to check in with your own mental health and let others know if you are feeling like things aren’t okay. First of all, this is a way to show yourself that your mental health is important and matters, but also a way of showing others around you that it’s okay to ask for help.
Reaching out for support can be a barrier for some people for many different reasons, one of which has been perpetuated by society, as asking for help can be seen as a sign of “weakness”, when in actual fact it is a strength to put your hand up and let someone know you need this help.
Once you have checked in with your own mental health concerns, the next suggestion would be to ask those close to you how things are for them. They may not be ready to share, or too afraid to say the truth, and that’s totally okay. Letting others know that you are interested in their mental well-being can be a first sign to others that it’s okay to start talking about their own experience of mental health concerns when they feel comfortable to share more.
Another suggestion is to continue learning about mental health concerns and ways of coping when mental health issues become an issue for yourself or others around you. Having knowledge about what might be happening regarding our mental health and what could help can work towards reducing the misunderstanding or fear that often surrounds mental health in the world today.
Additional reading: Simple Strategies to Help A Friend In Need
There is a long way to go in reducing the stigma around mental health concerns, and even just taking the time today to read this article is a great first step in living in a world with more understanding of how mental health affects us all, and how we can start having more conversations around this crucial aspect that impacts each one of our lives. Thanks so much for reading!
About the Guest Contributor
Heather LeGuilloux is a therapist and mental health blogger who shares her knowledge, experience, and passion about mental health and wellness through her self-titled website www.heatherleguilloux.ca. Heather has an interest in helping people to understand themselves better in order to strengthen their emotional well-being as well as their relationship with others. Heather can also be found through Pinterest and Facebook.
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