On this issue of how we describe “mental health,” I have another example that I want to share with you. A new client, let’s call him Barry, postponed our sessions before we even got started. He texted me and said, “I’m checking into a mental hospital and don’t know when I’ll be back.” And added, “This is where I belong.”
“This is where I belong.” ?
At first, I was curious because having done a client intake with him and was aware he wrestled with depression and some distressing family issues. And I knew he was looking forward to the emotional release sessions we were going to be doing. As a working professional, he liked what he did but was in the throes of despair and desperate to feel better. My curiosity turned to admiration.
I texted back, and said take good care of yourself and I’ll be here when you want to reengage. I’m sending my love.
When I think about the decision he made, I look at it as a very, very courageous decision to take care of himself. To boldly state: I’m checking into a mental hospital.
And this is where the courageous comes, maybe you’ve noticed, despite on-going awareness campaigns, our culture is very “mental health” phobic. It’s been that way forever. And I don’t know if it’s gotten much better. Well, it’s probably gotten better… but anything that has to do with mental health still, often gets an eye-roll.
In fact, mental health is almost a derogatory term in our culture. If a person’s mental health is compromised regardless of what it is, the subtext of that is that there’s something suspect with this person. Actually, there’s a wide spectrum of mental health issues and, truth be told, most anyone of us, somewhere and at some point in our life, probably would have benefited from some rest and rehabilitation in a mental hospital.
But in our culture, having a mental health issue can be the equivalent of wearing a tin foil hat. And so that’s the prejudice to begin with.
And there’s nowhere this is seen more acutely than in the business world. Often, among driven professionals I work with, they don’t want to talk about anxiety or depression or sadness or anger. They describe what they’re going through as being under a lot of stress and pressure or overwhelm. Or often it’s, “I feel stuck.”
I find, as an emotions specialist, that these are generic terms where people can gloss over what’s really happening with them. For many, like my ex-partner, saying “I feel anxious, or I feel depressed,” raises fears that they’ll be labeled and marginalized.
Yet the term “stress” is actually a catch-all that’s a fairly generic and meaningless term – what it has going for it is that it’s a safe word that’s accepted by our culture. In fact, until a person hits a wall and is labeled with a “mental illness” diagnosis (and the meds that go with it) we’re pretty much encouraged to stumble along using this ambiguous catch-all term, “stress”.
We’ve all been trained to talk about stress. “I am so stressed” and “This stress is killing me.”
I do teach “Stress reduction” but it’s actually about learning to be in touch with what we’re actually feeling. Stress is an emotional reaction where there’s a sense of tension, it signals a rise in cortisol and adrenaline, a tightening of the body, a rise in heart rate.
But when we’re educated about emotions and in touch with what we’re feeling, these symptoms are all responses that occur in fear and anxiety, in self-doubt, depression, and often anger.
In fact, stress is usually a cocktail of emotions – but generally loaded with a lot of fear. “I’m afraid that I’m going to mess up,” “I am afraid that this thing I want to happen so badly, is not going to happen.” And it’s mostly fears about the future.
But we don’t want other people to see that we’re not as strong and stoic and equipped as we make ourselves out to be. So, the charade continues until we push ourselves to the limits and collapse OR we commit to taking a good look at ourselves and get to the bottom of what’s behind the stress …and start working to release it.
What’re your thoughts on the subject of “stress”, and mental health … do you see the stigma that I’m talking about? Maybe you’ve experienced it. Drop down to the comments section and let me know.
I’m Beach Williams and I want you to lead your most magnificent life and I want to help you do that.