Why Talking About Mental Health is So Important

Why Talking About Mental Health Is So Important

It wasn’t too long ago that talking about mental health was considered taboo. While it is still a difficult subject to approach, especially in some families and cultures, stigmas around mental health are slowly disappearing.

Today, many more people understand that physical health and mental health are not separate and that no more shame should be attached to having depression than there is to having the flu.

Part of the reason for the shift in understanding may be because so many people in the U.S. have a mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in five, or approximately 52.9 million U.S. adults, are experiencing a mental illness. Symptoms range from mild to severe, but even mild symptoms can cause a major disruption in a person’s life.

Defining Mental Disorder

Mental disorders are characterised by symptoms that cause a significant disturbance in a person’s behavior and their ability to think and regulate their emotions. There are several different categories of mental health disorders, including:

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Trauma-related disorders

  • Mood disorders

  • Psychotic disorders

  • Substance use disorders

  • Eating disorders

  • Personality disorders

Anyone can develop a mental health concern at any time in life. However, some factors put individuals at a higher risk for mental illness. Genetics, environment, childhood abuse, poverty, violence, disability, and surviving a traumatic event can make some people more vulnerable than others.

5 Reasons Why It’s Important to Talk About Mental Problems

Talking about mental health, including the need for more resources and accessibility to those resources, isn’t always an easy conversation, but it is important. Silence can inadvertently lead to:

  • Fewer opportunities for those with mental illnesses

  • Bullying and harassment

  • Discrimination in the workplace, schools, and in housing opportunities

  • Health insurance discrimination

Stigma also makes people more reluctant to seek mental therapy treatments that could help them live more satisfying lives. Less than half of the 52.9 million Americans experiencing mental illness will engage in treatment.

1. It Lets People Know They Are Not Alone

Living with a mental illness can be lonely. People may isolate themselves because of symptoms or the fear of being misunderstood. In either case, the more people talk about mental health concerns, the more confident those who are living with mental illness will be about sharing their own experiences.

If you have a friend, partner, or family member living with mental illness, or if you yourself have been diagnosed with a disorder, don’t be afraid to have a conversation about it with others. Hearing you talk about your experience will encourage others to do the same.

2. It Encourages People to Get Treatment

Many people living with mental illness do not know all of the care options that are available to them. In some areas, there is still a prevailing idea that you must be sent to a hospital or heavily drugged if you are struggling with your mental health.

Hospitalisation and medications are sometimes the best choices, but they are far from the only options. Support groups, talk therapy, and telehealth therapy are a few of the services that people can access.

3. It Combats Stigma

Stigma prevents people from reaching out when they need help. The more prevalent conversations about mental health become in everyday life, the less powerful stigmas are. Discussions about the importance of mental health break down barriers and correct the misconceptions that prevent people from getting treatment.

4. It Helps You Maintain Your Own Mental Health

Hiding your own struggles with mental problems may exacerbate your symptoms. Feelings of shame can compound and add to the stress you are already feeling. There’s no need to share your diagnosis with every person you meet, but speaking out against stereotypes, offering first-hand experience, and correcting misinformation are ways to improve your own well-being while helping others.

5. It Could Save a Life

It is not exaggerating to suggest that speaking up about mental health can save someone’s life. The National Institute on Mental Health warns that suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Of course, not every person who is living with symptoms of a mental health disorder experiences thoughts of suicide, but having a mental health disorder does increase a person’s risk for suicidal ideation.

People with bipolar disorder, depression, and PTSD can be at high risk of taking their own lives. The impulsivity related to disorders like ADHD and borderline personality disorder can also lead to rash decisions that have tragic results.

When you speak about your own experience or that of a loved one, you may unknowingly be offering a lifeline to someone who has begun to feel hopeless about their future.

How to Start a Conversation About Mental Health

First, remember that everyone has mental health — just like everyone has physical health. Some days you may feel down or anxious. It is “normal” to have an occasional bad mental health day. That doesn’t mean you need mental therapy any more than having a cold means you need surgery.

However, if symptoms continue for two weeks or more, it may be time to seek professional help. If you notice a friend or co-worker exhibiting symptoms of poor mental health over an extended time, you may want to reach out but might not be sure how to approach the issue.

Understanding the general symptoms of mental illness will help. They include:

  • Unusual or extended fatigue

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Extreme mood swings

  • Dangerous risk-taking behaviors

  • Sadness and feelings of hopelessness

  • Isolation

  • Loss of interest in activities the person once enjoyed

  • Fluctuations in weight and eating habits

  • Insomnia

  • Paranoia

  • Delusion or hallucinations

Each disorder causes its unique set of symptoms, and symptoms can vary from person to person and in levels of severity. However, knowing at least the general signs of a mental health problem will help you be a more effective advocate.

Starting a Conversation

Waiting for a natural opening to a conversation about mental health is a great idea, but that opening may never come. Consider these tips for talking to a friend about your concerns:

  • Start a general conversation and see if they open up

  • Let them know about your concerns

  • Affirm that you care about them and are available for support if they want to talk

  • Avoid making suggestions or giving advice other than to seek professional mental health care

  • Make a social date that has nothing to do with mental health

  • Educate yourself on the importance of mental health, including the services and resources in your area

  • Share your personal experience with mental illness if applicable

  • Be an advocate by speaking out against stereotypes, “jokes,” or misinformation

Lastly, if you can be a long-term advocate, let the person know. Offering to deliver some home-cooked meals, babysit, or provide transportation to and from therapy sessions can relieve some of the stress a person who is struggling with their mental health feels.

Start Talking About Mental Health Today

Ignoring your own struggles with mental health or those of someone you care about only adds to the stigmas that surround mental health topics. Breaking through the discomfort of discussing mental health is the first step to improving mental well-being for everyone.

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