May is one of my favorite months of the year. Spring is in full bloom (hello, allergies) as bright pink, orange, and purple flowers flaunt their beauty, brightening up my garden and my day.
Perhaps it is fitting then that May is Mental Health Awareness month (who wants to celebrate mental health during gray January?) - a time to raise awareness about living with mental illness, so we can break the silence and promote mental health and healing.
But, I’m gonna be honest: I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated that national conversations about mental health in America tend to only happen when they are linked to an episode of gun violence.
I’m frustrated that the Netflix show, “13 Reasons Why” had so many opportunities to highlight the urgency of caring for our youth’s mental and emotional health - and they totally missed the mark by focusing on revenge and romanticizing suicide.
I’m frustrated that with umpteen million social media platforms promoting sharing and human connection, we are still stuck in a cycle of silence about mental health and well-being.
And, frankly, I’m frustrated that we are still even calling it mental health and well-being.
Because really, isn’t it human health and well-being?
Thanks to science, we know that mental health affects not only our cognitive brain, but also our physical health, emotional health, and our connection to self, family, community, and the world.
But when we reduce trauma, for example, to just a mental health issue, its causes and treatment get de-prioritized and de-funded like many other mental health issues in our schools, in the workplace, and in our health system. When really, it should be treated like the community crisis that it is.
Trauma is a symptom of family, of origin issues, violence, bullying, abuse, and systemic oppression and injustice. Its causes and effects are deeply relational, impacting families, schools, workplaces, and communities. Yet it can also lead to lack of focus in school, loss of economic productivity, and breakdown of civil society. Left untreated, its effects are inherited by future generations.
But, before we can even start to tackle the problem of trauma or any other holistic human issue - we have to start talking about the hard stuff. We have to be willing to share not just our selfie vacation porn, but also our real human-ness - our sadness, despair, fear, vulnerability, imperfections, and all the complex, emotional, messy shit as well. And, it doesn’t have to be online. It could even be, dare I say, in a real, live human conversation.
And, likewise, we have to respond to others with compassion and kindness and stop trying fix their problems or tritely say, “Don’t worry, it’ll get better...” - because when was the last time you actually felt better when someone said that to you? Sometimes just having another person acknowledge our pain is all we need.
So, next time someone reaches out to you in a time of need, try something like this: “Thank you for sharing with me. I’m so sorry you are feeling shitty. I can really feel your pain and sadness. I care about you, and I’m here for you if you need a hug, a shoulder, or someone to just listen. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Bottom line: let’s be more vulnerable, and in doing so, create positive human connection and health. Like any good facilitator, I will model it first. Here I go:
My husband’s grandpa recently died. During the funeral, while I was crying, I realized that my tears were awash with guilt and sadness over not spending enough time with my own grandparents when they were alive. I didn’t ask them stories about their childhoods. I didn’t ask my grandpa how hard the Depression was, or my grandma what it was like to be told she couldn’t go to college. Instead, I was a self-absorbed teenager who cared more about whether my friends liked me than about spending time with my sassy grandma before the Alzheimer’s really took over. Then, I felt bad that I was crying over my own stuff instead of supporting my husband through his grief.
So, that’s me. Now, you go...