Today I will be giving a presentation on mental health for a roundtable meeting. This is a presentation I was invited to give some months ago. When the initial request came in, it was a simple, “We’d like someone to talk about mental health.” My response? “Great! But that’s a pretty broad topic… .do you have anything specific?” I asked the question, but I already knew the answer. It’s always the same answer.
“Suicide prevention.” Queue the rolling of my eyes.
Look: self-harm and the taking of one’s life are serious issues and absolutely need to be discussed and dealt with. They’re also a small part of the overall mental health experience — one that puts the cart so far in front of the horse that I can’t even think of a way to cap off that particular metaphor, so let’s try another one: It’s like walking 4.99k of a 5k marathon, sprinting the last 100 meters, and wondering why you didn’t win the race even though you’re tired and sweaty.
It’s part of the problem with calling it “mental illness,” actually. Because when you get sick, you take your meds, drink your OJ, maybe go to the doctor and (usually) you get better, at least until the next time around. If you focus on wellness, drink that OJ (or otherwise get your vitamin C), wash your hands, eat and sleep well all the time, you don’t get sick as often.
So, why is mental health the only one where we focus 99% of our efforts on the “sick,” and ignore the “wellness?” Mental Healthcare is Healthcare. Mental Health has biological markers and components just like diabetes and heart disease. Still, the conversation we have in mental health is as if we just talked about the heart attack and never the clogged arteries, weakened muscle, or genetic components that led to it in the first place. In mental health, we address the crisis and ignore the rest.
You want to talk about suicide prevention? Talk about access to regular “maintenance” care, mental health education in schools, or talk about the de-stigmatization of treatment. Talk about not just the conditions themselves but about family history. Talk about balanced diets and exercise. Talk about socialization and friendships. Talk about… the person.
This goes out to my peers as well. You don’t like meds? Fine. If it works for your friends and loved ones, don’t give them shit about it. If avoiding taking meds and exploring homeopathic methodologies works for them, don’t give them shit about it. If electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) works for them, don’t give them shit about it. If a person is doing all they can to get help and focus on getting better. Don’t. Give. Them. Shit. About. It.
Offer suggestions when asked for, don’t when they’re not, and move on. Healthcare is personal, yet, I see more people willing to tell others what to do when it comes to their brains. Again, if I said, “I had a heart attack,” the first comment wouldn’t be, “you should drink less coffee.” It would be, “are you ok?” Or, “I’m glad you’re alive!” (Seriously though, I should probably drink less coffee).
Mental Health is just health. It’s just another part of health. So, if you want real suicide prevention… remember that.
“Mental Health” is “health.” Now, eat your vegetables.