The other day I was talking to a lovely woman who had attended some training I had delivered a couple of months previously. She was telling me how some of the tools and techniques shared in the session had helped her to feel more confident in setting boundaries at work. I replied that I find being able to tell people around me what I need is important, but that anxiety makes that difficult for me sometimes.
She looked at me in silence for a moment and then said ‘I didn’t realise you had mental health! You wouldn’t think it by the way you are, you hide it really well.’
This type of conversation is very common – the idea that people who may struggle with their own mental wellbeing are the only ones that ‘have mental health’ or that those who are functioning well cannot also have stuff going on with their own mental wellbeing.
This is not a criticism of the woman I was talking to – lots and lots of people think the same way she did – and with good reason. Mental health has been a topic largely misunderstood and rarely talked about for decades – it is only in recent history we would put those who struggled with their mental health in ‘asylums’ locked away from the rest of the world. We hid those people away; buried the idea of mental ill health under the societal blanket like it was a secret that must never uncovered.
Thankfully, the days of asylums are behind us and great strides are being made in around mental health, but the damage the way in which mental health was perceived still lives on in our society., and misconceptions are all too common.
Misconception One – Only those who are struggling mentally have mental health.
Merriam-Webster gives the definition of health as being:
“The condition of being well or free from disease: the overall condition of someone’s body or mind; the condition or state of something.
It is a wide topic. We have all kinds of health: physical health, mental health, financial health, environmental health, spiritual, societal, intellectual and emotional. And the health of each of these things is related to the overall condition or state of them.
Are the only people who have physical health the ones with a broken leg or illness? Are the only people who have financial health the ones who are in debt and always over the overdraft? Is environmental health reserved only for the places with terrible pollution problems?
Of course not. We use these terms to describe the state of them – they can have excellent physical, financial or environmental health. They could equally have poor health or moderate health and they could also experience all of these states depending on lots of factors that influence the state of their health.
Mental health is no different. It is a spectrum that can and does fluctuate for all of us. We ALL have mental health – sometimes good mental health, and sometimes mental ill health, but mental health all the same.
Misconception Two – Confident, successful people do not have mental ill health
I would like to think I have been fairly successful in my life. I have worked in a variety of interesting jobs, I now run my own business, I have my own house, a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. On the face of it, I might be what some would call successful.
I also get crippling anxiety. So bad sometimes that I am unable to talk to anyone, engage in anything, look after my children, or leave my bedroom.
I have no idea where this anxiety comes from or even what some of the triggers are. But I have experienced it all of my adult life, and if I really think about it, most of my childhood too.
It surprises people sometimes when I tell them how bad it can be. After all, I am often found standing up in front of a room full of people delivering training or talks or seminars – many of which include anxiety and how we can live with it. So, if am doing all that stuff, how can I be anxious?
Well, because anxiety is really bloody complicated. It is not prescriptive, and it does not follow a set of rules. It is also present, to varying degrees, in almost 100% of the people I talk to and support.
Humans are rich tapestries that cannot be defined by one thing. We are more than our mental health, good or bad and I for one am often able to function well alongside the anxiety I carry. Not all the time, but certainly not none of the time.
The same applies to lots of different mental health issues: depression; bipolar; schizophrenia; borderline personality disorder; dissociative identity disorder and many others.
Sometimes they may stop us in our tracks for a while but the idea that success or confidence cannot live alongside mental health issues is one that needs to be challenged.
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