Gosh, “mental health” is such a loaded term. Thankfully, it’s something that carries a lot less stigma today than it has for, well, ever. It’s a term our culture is becoming more comfortable talking about and accepting.
I’m not sure why we treated it differently than physical health for so long. Myself included. Like most people, if my friend had a broken leg, I would recommend he see a physician. Obviously. I would not tell him, “You just need to change your thinking.” Or to “shake it off.” Or any of the other stupid things we’ve tended to say to people who were struggling to cope with certain aspects of their lives and how they thought and felt.
Close to home
Full disclosure: I am no expert on any of this stuff and I have no special wisdom to impart. There’s always the risk of Instagramming things, giving an impression online that does not reflect reality. That is not my goal here: I simply want to share our experience. I explained the gist of this article to my wife, and she had some strong words about being real.
I must confess that I may have been stuck with my old mindset if things had been different in my own life. But in recent years we’ve dealt with our share of mental health issues in our home. My wife had a full-fledged panic attack one year that manifested in acute chest pains. 4–5 years later, we can look back at that moment (and the subsequent bouts of anxiety) and be thankful for healing and growth. But it was not easy to go through — and she still struggles with anxiety every day.
After a while, we realized one of our children was struggling with anxiety as well. It manifested differently: through slowly developed, increasingly complex routines for various scenarios. If you know anything about it, you stop making jokes about OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder). Preferring your desk to be set up a certain way is not the same thing. OCD can be severely debilitating to living life, especially for a young child.
And we have another child who suffers from separation anxiety. Thankfully, we were better equipped to help our kids because of what my wife had been through.
While you cannot solve mental health issues with a list of bullet points, I’d love to share a few things that helped us. And again, my wife leads our home in this area — and I’m so thankful for her wisdom and nurturing care.
That’s an obvious statement. But I fear that there is still a stigma about seeking help for mental or emotional issues that make it hard to admit we need help, let alone seek it out (especially for men). So the obvious needs to be stated.
Therapy is not a bad word. It’s a blessing to live in a country where qualified, capable, and caring professionals are available to help people cope with their thoughts, anxieties, and feelings. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can be a beautiful thing!
You wouldn’t hesitate to see your doctor if you developed chest pains. And you would see a physiotherapist regularly if it meant you could keep playing your favorite sport. So don’t be fearful of seeing a therapist for emotional or mental issues — and be quick to recommend it to your friends and family before a problem gets worse.
Last, if you have someone in your life who has a mental health issue, getting help isn’t just for them. It’s for you as well. Taking the time to learn about the illness and how to cope shows a willingness to work together with those you love. This is one are I need to improve myself.
One of the biggest challenges people face when dealing with their mental health is feeling alone in their suffering. When you take the time to educate yourself and become familiar with how people can cope (and hopefully recover), you’re showing your love in action.
I say this not because it comes naturally to me — it doesn’t. But it does for my wife, and she leads our family in this way. I’m inspired by how she ensures she knows as much as possible about an issue our children face. Without her, I’d be ill-equipped to help my children in any way.
Talk about it
Related to the last point, talking about mental health is vital. When you’re willing to talk about your issues, you’ll quickly discover other people in your life will be struggling with the same types of things. But when you’re sick, it is so easy to feel as if you’re the only person on the planet who is going through whatever you’re facing. And that you’re the only one who can’t “get it together”.
The more open we are, the more we normalize the reality that we all struggle with our thoughts and feelings. That's the biggest reason I wanted to write about this, even at the risk of giving a false impression.
For those of us who claim a faith of any type, be sure that you’re not minimizing someone else’s struggles. It’s easy to make things worse.
Of course, a healthy spiritual life can help us deal struggles of all types. But that cannot be forced by one human onto another. Be loving, but encourage your loved ones to seek help from professionals rather than handing out your own advice.
Ask yourself some pointed questions
Last, make sure you’re taking the time to ask yourself hard questions. Do these make you uncomfortable?
- Why do we think about injuries to our mind differently than we think about injuries to our body?
- Why do we have compassion for someone who struggles with chronic back pain, but feel like someone who struggles with alcohol addiction just needs to “get it together”?
In this matter, being a good spouse, parent, child, friend, or neighbour looks the same as a lot of things. Listen well. Be available. Love in action.
Again, I’m not an expert in this stuff. But our home is like any other — we have struggles to get through. And the ones we’re experiencing have taught me a lot about how to think about mental health.