Growing up in a scientific world, with a dad who was a medical engineer, and later a husband who was a doctor, mental health had to be defined biologically. It wasn’t enough to say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed;” you had to have the biochemistry to prove something was “off” in your brain.
Thank goodness that the rest of the world is coming to understand that mental “wellness” is far more than scientifically pre-ordained values of dopamine and other brain chemicals!
I took a simple poll, and discovered that 95 per cent of my 1,121 feel they experience episodes of mental unwellness, or mental “illness,” if you will.
A second simple poll revealed that a huge majority of the cases of crime reported in the daily and weekly police releases from our communities can be traced to mental unwellness, usually in the form of addiction or anger issues, or both.
When we set aside one day to talk about mental illness, I worry that we are not getting the point, as a society: if we are to address the root of our social problems, we must look beyond the scientific definition of mental health, and consider each individual’s disposition, strengths, challenges, and stories. The man outside the liquor store is unwell; he has a story, but his brain chemistry may not tell it. I, too, and I hasten to say you as well, are sometimes mentally unwell, and we have our stories, whether or not the chemistry reflects them. Those stories are what make up our community, and, more broadly, our society. We have to tell all the stories, not just the ones that surface today on Bell Let’s Talk Day, or the ones that fit into the medically-defined parameters.
Sure, you can continue to intellectualize mental illness, and make it someone else’s problem; but I’d hazard to guess you have your challenges too. How mentally “well” are you? Perhaps you’re stable, can hold a job, manage through conflict plus or minus a few headaches. What if you lost your spouse unexpectedly? Would you be mentally “well,” then? What if you were diagnosed with cancer? Mentally “well” then too?
Mental wellness, to me, is defined by our ability to understand our motivations and our actions, to curb extreme behaviours, and to care for ourselves. Most of us don’t achieve those standards perfectly on any given day.
Some will say I water down the concept of mental health, and I’ll take that criticism: I feel that the scope of medically defined mental illness places unjustified stigmas on those who fit within it. We are all susceptible. And that’s not to say that I don’t live with someone who is categorized under the medical classification as mentally ill – and medicated as such. It’s also to say that I don’t have immediate family members diagnosed under the medical classification system. It’s just to say that mental wellness – and unwellness – goes beyond the classification system.
Mental wellness, therefore, is something we should consider not just today, but every day, and not just when we run into the man at the liquor store, but when we run in to anyone.