We are currently in the midst of a mental health revolution.
Finally, people who have been suffering silently are allowed to talk about their experiences. Those who are diagnosed with mental illnesses are no longer being looked at as “crazy people”. They are instead being treated with kindness and care.
Of course, along with the good comes the bad.
Having mental illness has now become fashionable. Everywhere you look on social media, on TV, in shampoo ads, is mention of mental well-being. It’s a not-so-exclusive club that everybody wants to join.
Where terms like “panic attack”, “anxiety”, and “bipolar” used to be treated as the dirtiest of swear words, they are now commonly sprinkled into everyday vocabulary. Yes, it’s good that we can now talk about these subjects without fear of persecution. However, what it’s doing is trivializing the severity of these afflictions. People who use these terms in this way are outing themselves as lacking understanding of these conditions. Further, using these terms in order to elicit attention and sympathy from others is ignorant and insensitive, to say the least.
So many businesses are jumping on the bandwagon that it’s no longer about the product. It’s now all about ‘healthy mind and body’. Weight loss brands, spas, drugs, and even everyday household products are now advertised as being good for your overall well-being. Everywhere you look, there’s another reminder. While it’s good to de-stigmatize mental illness, what it’s also doing is putting a false idea in peoples’ heads that using the right bar soap or running shoes is the cure.
Additionally, plenty of platforms on the internet host communities of people who are dealing with mental illnesses.
While this can provide a safe space of comfort and compassion, it can also give people permission to stay stagnant instead of making an effort to grow and improve. In many situations, it allows them to wallow along with a community of wallowers. There’s a mindset of, “well, this is just who I am”, instead of, “this is something I can work on.” Instead of challenging themselves, they stay safe inside their bubbles. There are even psychiatrists and doctors who are handing out prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications like candy instead of encouraging their patients to seek therapy.
This brings to light another issue.
Many choose to go on these medications, citing the now incredibly popular buzzwords, “I have a chemical imbalance in my brain.” However, this chemical imbalance theory has long been discredited. Why? There is not a shred of scientific evidence to support it. Brain chemistry is constantly in flux, and if a brain’s chemistry is never balanced, then it’s impossible for it to be imbalanced.
Further to the point, the only time when brain chemistry would possibly be a suspect would be in the cases of specific, severe mood disorders. Even ADHD, long believed to be caused by brain chemistry, has been proven to be caused by a variety of other factors, chief among them brain development and genetics (also, NOT vaccines). Yet, pharmaceutical companies, and even some mental health professionals, are perpetuating the chemical imbalance theory. They claim that the only thing to do about these disorders is to take medication.
This is hugely damaging because it makes people think that there is something inherently wrong with them.
They think that there is no treating their disorder and that they must deal with it solely with the use of chemicals. While medications can be useful tools to aid the difficult and painful process of therapy, people often stop seeing it as a means to a cure; they see it as the cure itself. Instead of constantly trying to work on themselves, they take medication, feel a little better, and say to themselves, “well, this is as good as it’s going to get”, and live that way for the rest of their lives.
Yes, there are some mental illnesses that require the use of medications, such as schizophrenia and bipolar one disorder. This is because there is an actual physical abnormality with the brain. But, the list of mental illnesses in this category is short.
Yes, the chemically imbalanced brain theory is widely regarded as bogus. But, what we do know about the causes of mental health disorders is that they seem to develop because of a wide range of causes. Among those are socio-economic status, physical factors, and genetic predispositions. To be clear, “genetic predisposition” is not synonymous with “chemical imbalance”. It just implies that, if not taught healthy ways of handling stressors while young, some people may be more inclined to develop a psychiatric disorder. These predispositions can both be prevented and effectively treated, with or without the help of medication.
Recently, using trigger warnings has become popularized.
Nobody wants to offend or upset anyone, so they preface every social media post, book, song, article, with those two words. This, again, has proven to be ineffective; some researchers even say it’s harmful. According to several studies, trigger warnings do next to nothing to prevent people from reliving traumatic experiences, and, even worse, imprints the trauma to an even larger degree. It becomes entrenched in peoples’ very identity, which worsens the trauma and makes it much harder to treat. This also gives people the illusion that they will be able to successfully avoid triggers in life. They create a safe bubble for themselves. Doing this ends up making it so much worse when they one day, inevitably, end up having to face the trigger.
The logistical problem with trigger warnings is that there is no possible way to know everyone’s trigger. There are many people with rare, unpredictable triggers. They can’t possibly expect warnings every time they are to be exposed.
People with mental illnesses have a really tough time emotionally, and so they start to fear those things that will make them feel strong emotions. This reluctance to feel is not only a reluctance to live life to the fullest, but it’s also a major root cause of many mental health disorders. Bottling up emotions is a sure-fire way to increase stress, which ups your chances of developing anxiety and/or depression. Feeling strong emotions is what causes people to assume they have a disorder, which, in turn, is a guide towards taking medications in an effort to control what they feel. This is possibly an even worse mental illness epidemic in our society: the shame and fear associated with feeling.
Thus, we live in an over-medicated, under-feeling society.
English speakers have cultivated a tendency towards hyperbole.
While at first it makes what we say have more impact, it ends up cheapening our words. If everything is amazing, then is anything amazing? If you have a panic attack every time you feel slightly anxious, then what are people having who are experiencing REAL panic? You say you’re “depressed” every time you feel bummed about something, but what are people experiencing who no longer see any point to living? Choose your words carefully.
It’s puzzling why so many want to believe that they have these disorders when others are truly suffering from them. If you want to be supportive, the best thing you can do is educate yourself. Learn the symptoms of different disorders. Find out the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. ADD may have been banished from the psychological lexicon, but ADHD is very real. Instead of shouting, “me too”, every time your friends confide in you about their experiences, really listen to them. Let them be heard, and do your best to be there for them.
This mental health revolution deserves to be taken seriously, so be part of the solution.