Dorothee Chopamba, Social Worker/Pscyhotherapist
Many people believe they are immune from experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental illness, either because they think they are too well educated, or they are professionals, or they are in a higher tax bracket. The truth is, mental illness does not discriminate, and it affects people of all ages, gender, religion, socio-economic status and ethnicity. One in five people, both adults and children, experience mental illness at some point in their lives.
While you can control some of the factors that influence your mental health by taking care of yourself, you cannot control genetics and you cannot prevent some of the unexpected life experiences that may trigger a mental health issue. However, you can help yourself by avoiding thinking about mental illness in absolute terms such as, “always” or “never”. It becomes a problem when you find yourself saying things like, “I have never had a mental health problem”.
This type of thinking is called faulty thinking, as it results in an inability to see the alternatives in a situation or solutions to a problem. It means not seeing the downside to any given situation. The danger of absolute thinking is that it ignores the fact that your mental health changes every single day. Think of it more like a continuum. What that means is that on any given day, your mental health might fall in a different spot on the continuum, depending on what is going on in your life. Meaning, every single person experiences mental health issues to some degree.
One of the most common questions that people ask me is, “How do I know if I have a mental illness?” To be honest, this is a tricky question because mental health covers a huge spectrum. It is a natural human condition where we can all experience intense emotions at some point in our lives. But, that does not mean we have mental illness. For instance, one can feel depressed and not have depression, or one can feel anxious and not have anxiety. This is because there are many types of mental illness and they affect people in different ways. Some mental illness is mild while others can be more severe. While mental illness can push some people to extreme creativity or discovery, for some it can cause serious impairment or ability to function. When our mental health is compromised, it prevents us from coping, engaging in life and realizing our full potential. Poor mental health can affect our relationships, family life and productivity at work.
I therefore, encourage you to look around you, wherever you are right now. Start with looking at your immediate and wider family. Look at your close circle of friends or even your colleagues. You will be surprised that the person with a mental health problem might be sitting right next to you, suffering in silence. Due to the nature of mental illness being an invisible illness, it allows those affected to hide their mental health struggles from others. For all you know, they might be the joker making everyone laugh while hiding the pain inside. It could be that happy-go-lucky colleague or friend, the one you would never suspect to be suffering in silence. All this happens because they are afraid of the stigma. When you ask them how they are doing? They smile as they say “I am fine” and get on with their day as best as they can suffering in complete silence.
So, what can you do to help someone struggling with mental health? Whatever the case maybe, just asking how they are doing can go a long way. When asking someone how they are doing, it is important to do this away from other people. Remember it can be tricky to start talking about your mental health. Try to take their lead as they may not want to talk about it.
I think we need a culture change where we take more time to notice each other. Being open to discussing mental health does not have to be awkward. Just find out and learn what you should know in order to help someone struggling with mental illness.
To see a social worker like Dorothee, please call us at (416)-847-4101. For hours and location click here.