Dr Aaron Balick on why we're all 'mental'
Our guest blogger from BBC Radio 1's The Surgery asks: "Isn’t it time for us to become aware that we’re all ‘mental’?"
Mental Health Awareness Week is a good thing because it promotes awareness about mental health; however it also sets up a dichotomy between ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ which isn’t always the most helpful way to think about these things.
While it’s important to recognise that mental illness does indeed exist (conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and clinical depression are best diagnosed and treated properly); people often don’t recognise that all of us lie somewhere on a spectrum between mental health and illness. For example:
- Have you ever felt anxious and had persistent worrying thoughts?
- Have there been times when you felt so down that you’ve become hopeless and despondent?
- When’s the last time you thought obsessively about something, or behaved in a way that felt compulsive?
- When’s the last time you thought that something on the radio or the television was speaking directly to you? Or some random coincidence was full of meaning?
- How often do you talk to yourself (in your head, or out loud)?
My guess is that most people reading this have had some or even all of these experiences at some point, whether or not they’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. The thing is, the very experiences described above are very similar to the symptoms psychiatrists use to diagnose mental illness: for them it’s a matter of how often, how bad, and how debilitating.
While it’s vital that such diagnoses are made, it’s also important to realise that we are all likely to experience these ‘symptoms’ to a lesser or higher degree throughout our lives, diagnosed with a mental illness or not.
Part of the stigma about mental illness is that people without a diagnosis may believe it to be completely foreign and different from experiences they have in their daily lives. The more people get in touch with their own difficult or ‘crazy’ feelings, the more they will be able to understand and empathise with what it’s like for people with a diagnosed condition.
On this Mental Health Awareness Week perhaps it’s time to think about mental illness differently – less of a ‘them and us,’ and more as a variety of human experience. Sure, mental illness is real, potentially debilitating, and can become the central concern in the lives of people experiencing it, and their families and loved ones.
However, it’s important to realise that at the end of the day we are all ‘mental’ and we all live in a world that can seem pretty insane. Let’s face the craziness together with empathy, patience, understanding, and a common humanity.