From the Editors: Mental health must be taken as seriously as physical health

editorial-mental-health-by-shandis-harrison

(Shandis Harrison)

Could you imagine if you told one of your friends that you had a broken leg, and they told you that the problem was all in your head?

While most people know that bandages are good for cuts, most people probably don’t know what the appropriate measure would be for those who’re experiencing short term depression.

Almost everyone is taught in elementary school what sorts of actions they should take if they discover their friend has a bleeding arm. They should raise their hand above the heart, wrap the wound in a bandage, and bring them to a hospital if necessary. Most people likely have no idea what to do if their friend tells them they’re having a panic attack.

To extend this metaphor further, if you were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t hesitate to call 911, but many people experiencing mental health problems are typically reluctant to get help right away. Not only is it often difficult to face your problems, but it can be stressful to consider what your friends and family might think. The stigma towards mental health is so great that some flat out refuse to let their parents find out. Though this is often justified, many people simply don’t understand that you can’t simply “get over” these problems.

If you want an economic argument, poor mental health means poor job performance.

For instance, if you worked in construction and showed up to work hunched over, or otherwise in obviously bad shape, your boss will likely send you home because the last thing he needs is a worker suing him for making him work when he shouldn’t have. Unfortunately, the same often doesn’t happen in office jobs, where the physical symptoms of stress are less apparent, but just as real. It’s normal for office workers to be asked to push through whatever they’re dealing with, often to the detriment of their own health and their job performance.

Mental health isn’t a problem that can simply be solved by having money thrown at it. Society must move to make this a priority. If the government really wants to reduce homelessness in Vancouver, they should put mental health and addiction services on equal footing with housing. Why spend hundreds of thousands to keep someone reasonably miserable when you can merely spend thousands and make someone healthy and happy?

We also need to understand that “recovery” can mean different things to different people. To some, recovery means a complete and utter reduction of all problems a person is experiencing, while to others it simply means having the symptoms of an illness, but managing them in such a way that their quality of life is unaffected.

If you want to play a small role in making things better, do some reading on these subjects and talk to your friends about their feelings in a non-judgemental way. If your best friend or loved one comes to you to talk about their depression, anxiety, addiction, or anything else, you should first be grateful that they trust you enough to do this. Appreciate their vulnerability and listen to what they have to say

Be empathetic. What’s the difference between empathy and sympathy? Brene Brown, a researcher and author from the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work uses a good metaphor. If your friend or loved one is in a deep emotional hole, sympathy is shouting down into the hole to your friend, yelling something like “it’s dark down there eh?” Empathy is climbing into the hole yourself to be with them for a while.

Don’t blame them for their problem, but don’t minimize it either. Don’t suggest that people “get over it,” and avoid giving someone unsolicited advice. It might be well-intentioned, but telling someone what they should do takes away their agency.

 

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