October 17, 2018

Time to talk about mental health

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As of late, I have been rather intrigued by a campaign taken up by Prince William, his wife Katherine and Prince Harry. Known as Heads Together, the campaign aims to erase the stigma surrounding mental health, and in particular, having conversations about one’s mental health.


Part of what caught my attention was the very personal way the trio, who are all in their 30s, are approaching the subject. Not only have they begun an unusual, very familial collaboration, but they have largely started the conversation by talking about their own issues.


For example, Prince Harry talked about how he had shut out any dialog about his mother’s death for around 20 years, resulting in mental crisis. It’s an excellent example of how things build up, whether in oneself or between people. It needs to be addressed.


It does seem that mental health is increasingly unstable in these times. Suicide is a serious issue. Prince William noted that in the U.K. it’s the number-one killer for age 40 and younger; in the U.S. it’s the 10th leading cause of death overall. And sadly, the trend of taking out mental health problems on strangers in a public, mass act of violence is a growing issue as well.

Besides just talking about this crisis, I feel we need to address the underlying causes contributing to it: one — in my humble opinion, the erosion of any spiritual life or secure belief in God; and two, the erosion of a secure family life. 

And insecurity takes many forms, from severe self-deprecation to severe arrogance, in which one must build up a dishonesty with self and full avoidance of issues. Both forms are not only self-destructive, but extremely hurtful to loved ones.


And starting to talk about our issues is just that — a start. There’s so much more to it than just “letting it all out.” I’m no psychologist, but I’ve found these things to be true:


1. The conversation needs to be constructive. I have heard people mull over events that happened years ago, in order to come to an understanding of why they are the way they are, only to stop there, as if to say, “Oh well, that’s just how I am.” So … what has been accomplished? Centering the conversation on blame and defense of self is not useful.


Being constructive implies initiating a process of change. You are recognizing that your current state is unproductive or hurtful and requires tweaking in either large or small ways. Each human has the miraculous ability to grow (mature), and yet be the same person – only better. Don’t underestimate this and settle for less in a selfish or lazy attempt to be “you.” Is “being you” OK if you are hurting others?


Sometimes, in situations where you feel completely powerless, that change may just be a building of strength in order to fight the daily fight of coping, to not let the situation drag you down completely. If you resist change, your conversations will be pointless and damage will ensue.


2. The whole basis of having a constructive conversation is the fact that you’re reaching out beyond yourself. You can’t deal with it yourself. Some of the worst things you can do are, one, dwell in your own head, and two, self-medicate, whether by alcohol, marijuana or whatever it may be. For some, it may mean having a conversation with a doctor; while medication is not the answer, it can be a positive thing for some people.


Reaching beyond yourself also means opening yourself to responses. A conversation, by definition, is an exchange of ideas, not a monologue. Be ready to listen, and don’t simply seek out the most convenient answers.


3. There’s a time and a place and a person. Airing your grievances can be cathartic, but not to every single person you meet. If you feel the person is an invested friend or family member who cares about your troubles and will give positive feedback (positive as in, what you really need to hear), or if they have a stake in the issue, it can be helpful to delve into the details with them. Sometimes that’s hard — your frustration builds up and you just want to let loose to whoever’s in your path.


4. The following is my belief — to me it’s essential to what I’m talking about: Sometimes people are just not enough. Sometimes they let you down and don’t care enough to listen in depth, or they just don’t understand. Think outside the box as to what a conversation can be. Do you realize that when you actively listen to a sermon, it can start a constructive conversation within you? When you’re alone crying into your pillow at 2 a.m., a conversation is within reach through prayer and reading God’s Word. God offers these special therapy options, tailored to the human heart and mind, and the Doctor is always “in” (and doesn’t cost 5 cents).

Overall, to deal with the crises life brings, you need more – for me, it’s the secure Rock of my faith, assuring me that while I’ll no doubt fall at times, I won’t “be utterly cast down.” I also have the support of wonderful, caring friends. These things become more precious as years go by.

5. Lastly, pay it forward. Be a listener. Show someone you truly care. Be gentle, but also be direct where needed – they may not always like what you have to say. Check in on people; sometimes you don’t know what’s going on underneath the surface.

Mental and emotional health is an issue that cannot be ignored; it doesn’t go away. It’s not OK to settle for limiting your happiness, the happiness of your loved ones and the health of your relationships. We all need help along the way, and getting it can start us on the journey of removing those limitations.

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