“Mental health issues are issues everywhere.” I said that in an interview with the Hilton Head Island Packet newspaper in the wake of a mass shooting that killed nine people in an Oregon town I had lived and worked in.
I have dedicated my life as a mental health professional and provider, specializing in addictions and anxiety management. The reason: when the consequences of mental illness strike you or your family it is no longer an “everywhere” issue involving other people. It becomes your personal issue. That’s when you need professional help and support to make it through the chaos, loss and transition.
That shooting at the Umpqua Community College in October of 2015 touched my life because it touched the lives of former friends of mine and people I had been close to when I lived there.
These days, you are more likely to hear the phrase “mental health” than” mental illness.” Interestingly enough, however, the concept of mental illness is a much older and more researched concept than mental health.
Mental illness and the pathology associated with that phrase has been studied and treated for centuries. There are three basic schools of thought about mental illness and its origins. The supernatural tradition or understanding of mental illness goes back to 900 BC when mental disorders were attributed to the work of the devil.
A second school of thought about mental illness could be called the biological tradition which views psychological disorders as biologically caused and therefore categorized as a medical disease.
The biological tradition still prevails today, but in conjunction with the third tradition, which is psychological. This has led to the modern psychosocial approaches to psychopathology and mental ailments. And that's where I come in as a mental health counselor.
If you Google these two concepts, “mental illness” or “mental health”, you will find an interesting imbalance. On the day I did a search, I got over 266 million hits for the keyword phrase of mental illness. When I turned to a search about mental health I barely got 1 million search returns.
Part of this can be explained by how young, as it were, the whole concept and field of mental health really is. Although, in all likelihood, it’s more popular today to use the phrase mental health than mental illness, mental health as a field of study and treatment originated only as recently as 1908 when the Mental Health America organization was started under the guidance of Clifford W. Beers. Mr. Beers, a Wall Street financier, suffered bipolar disorder. Although he was injured, he survived a suicidal jump out of a third story window. When he recovered, he wrote his autobiography, “A Mind That Found Itself,” and devoted his life to exposing the maltreatment of people with mental illnesses. His efforts to reform the care of people with mental disorders resulted in the mental health movement.
Mental health must be cultivated. Although we don't fully in every case understand how a person's mind can jump the tracks, as it were, and do horrible things such as mass shootings, we do know a lot about how to prevent mental illness and cultivate mental health.
If mental health issues are issues everywhere, that means you and I are responsible for establishing and sustaining environments which cultivate and grow mental health in our own lives and in our own homes with our own families. Although counseling is a great idea when it comes to understanding your own unique self and how to keep yourself healthy, there are many things you can do on your own to maintain your mental health.
Here are some starter ideas and tips you can implement right now:
- Seek help when you need it. Doing so is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Break up the monotony in your life. Although routines can be efficient and help us feel more secure, a little change of pace adds spice and variety to life and exercises our problem-solving capacities.
- Avoid compulsive use of alcohol and other drugs. Keep it to a minimum. Any attempt to self-medicate with these mood altering substances can lead to abuse and in the long run only aggravate other problems you deal with.
- Respect yourself. Treat yourself with gratitude and kindness. Avoid by all means necessary, self-criticism. Be sure to do a few, fun activities each day that you enjoy and are recreational for you.
- Give your body attention and care. This includes your diet, exercise, grooming and body hygiene, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water and valuing the benefits of deep breathing.
- Make sure you have surrounded yourself with good people. Research shows that people with strong family and social connections are healthier than those who lack a supportive network.
- Give of yourself to others. Work into your life regular times and avenues where you use your time, money or energy to help someone else. This is also a good way to meet people with goodness in their hearts.
- Set realistic goals. Goals and plans for achievement, academically, professionally and personally, are great for mental health. The catch is being realistic about those goals. Write down your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them. Get lots of information pertinent to your goals and the steps you will need to take. Then run your plan by two or three objective people, being open to their feedback.
- Finally, learn how to deal with stress. Stress is not a bad thing. It's how you manage it or not that will do you harm. There are many ways to calm ourselves and manage stress and anxiety. Quieting your mind is one of the major ones. Learn and use some techniques of mindfulness, relaxation and personal well-being.
I am always happy to be available to you as you see fit. Although I have specialized in addictions and anxiety management, I am a professionally trained, licensed mental health counselor. If you have any questions about your own struggles and how to find peace of mind, please give me a call (843-422-2861). I can help.