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On Mental Health – Why It’s Complicated, And How That’s Changing.

On Mental Health – Why It’s Complicated, And How That’s Changing.

We are at a turning point in our discourse on mental health. For starters, there is a lot more room for the conversation to happen. And that’s saying something. 

I remember a time when seeing a shrink – as therapists were infamously called – was frowned on. Jokes were made about it. Things are different now. The derogatory term shrink is not nearly as popular as it used to be. And seeing a therapist is widely accepted as part of leading a healthy (even progressive) life.

We’re living through something of an awakening on the subject. To varying degrees, we’ve embraced the need to be intentional about the state, and health of our minds. It’s great that we have this momentum. 

Mental health remains, however, an inherently delicate, complex and nuanced subject. What it looks like varies from one person to another, and a blanket solution does not apply. 

I am not an expert on the subject. I do believe that we should create more room for the conversation to be had. 

To better appreciate the topic, it helps to understand why it’s so messy. 

Why Mental Health Is Complicated

I’ve come to believe that mental well-being involves negotiating certain tensions. And without self-awareness, they can be hard to recognise, let alone acknowledge. 

Here are a few such tensions. The need for belonging versus the need for space. The need for growth against the need for certainty. And (indeed) the need to become against the need to be present. Even the need for healthy stress creates tension with the need for calm. These pairs are easy to appreciate. The reality though isn’t always as tidy. 

When I arrived in Australia almost a decade ago, I had hoped to settle into a career that matched my skills and qualifications. But landing the right opportunity proved impossible for whatever reason. The needle just wasn’t budging and the years kept ticking by. 

Even though I knew better, it still felt like a personal indictment. And it took a lot of work for me to see things in a different light. I’m grateful to have had the right support structure to navigate those crucial moments.

Thankfully, I’m in a much better place career-wise. And while it’s not what I aimed for, I’m grateful for where I am, and the journey that’s been. Along the way, I’ve learnt to accept that a career may not give me all the opportunity I need to realise my potential. And that’s OK. I’m happy to make the most of it, understanding that I am not my career. Notably, this insight has released me to explore some exciting new possibilities, like the article you’re enjoying right now. Wink!

I’ve drawn this example from just one of many domains, career. Mental health strains are varied and each one adds a layer of complexity to the situation. It’s not black and white. Like physical health, I’ve had to make mental well-being a priority to make any progress on it. 

That’s been a journey.

Rethinking Posture

The penny drops differently for everyone. For me, a pivotal moment was watching a couple of high-profile sporting figures take a stance on the matter.

Simone Biles withdrew from several events in the 2020 Summer Olympics games (held in 2021) citing mental health concerns. Biles was inspired by fellow female Olympian Naomi Osaka, who had withdrawn from the French Open and Wimbledon Championships earlier in the year for similar reasons.

Other public figures have shone their light on mental health. But I was especially moved to a place of reckoning by these two athletes whom I’ve come to admire. By having their vulnerability on full display, they taught me to – at the very least – be honest with myself about my struggles. And I’ve had a few. 

This is not the only thing that led me to consider my posture on mental well-being. It is, however, one of the most consequential. I can’t say precisely why that is. It just landed in the right place for me, and I’m grateful for that. 

I would venture to say that the most important thing anyone can do for their mental health is to bring it into focus. Acknowledge the need and make it a priority. This is no small feat. Despite all the awareness and provisions around mental well-being today, there’s still a lot of stigma on the subject. In that context, merely framing it as a priority is a bold move. The impetus for it varies with individuality and circumstance. But it’s a place of reckoning that each person must somehow reach, to have the right posture on mental well-being.

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It releases one to do the needful, and take steps towards better health.

Moving Forward

Mental well-being ailments are varied, each with its remedy. Sometimes a habit (or mindset) change is all it takes. In other cases, there’s a need for external help.

Seeking help is an extremely courageous thing to do. It should be sourced from experts and those who have already demonstrated the character, maturity and humility to respond aptly to such delicate needs. That’s because anyone in need of help is already vulnerable. So while there’s a need to seek help, it’s also necessary to qualify sources of help. Due diligence is required. 

Indeed what an ideal intervention for mental well-being looks like is not all that clear. Notably, we have some emerging lexicon to describe interventions that offer some hints here. Grace, boundaries, mindfulness, healing, and safe spaces are all examples of phrases we’re hearing more of as we evolve and clarify what well-being looks like in this relatively new domain.

These phrases are rooted in ideas we can appreciate. There’s still, however, much stigma on mental health. It’s fair to expect some headwinds. Grace, for example, may not sit well with a critical instinct – which we have in abundance – and setting boundaries could feel like an attempt to end ties irreparably. Once again, there will be tensions to navigate. A clear resolve is crucial to getting through the pushback we can reasonably expect from the orthodoxy.

That notwithstanding, there’s every reason to be hopeful. We enjoy a lot more room for well-being conversation than ever before. Indeed it’s fashionable in some instances. Government departments and employers are on board, providing much-needed resourcing to fund support networks and hotlines. There’s no better time than now to make mental well-being a priority.

As we give ourselves grace and (where possible) extend it to others, we should remember that mental well-being is a journey. One that’s accentuated by the peaks and troughs of life. It is not possible to arrive at the final destination. It takes some humility to admit this.

Once again, I don’t write as an expert. I do write as someone who cares about this topic enough to give it some thought. And these are my thoughts at the moment. I hope we can all take something away from it, to better ourselves, and thrive.

Take care.

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