Am I mentally healthy? The answer actually depends on how you define mental health. This used to be a taboo area to discuss. Having a mental problem was viewed as a sign of weakness. In the purest form, being healthy is often defined as the absence of pathology. Mental health is a bit more complicated. In the physical world, which include most diseases, it’s either a positive or a negative. Mental health is more complicated because it’s much more about degrees of an issue. There is a manual (DSM) that defines mental health issues. As an example, a “positive” for a particular condition might be if the individual has 6 out of 10 of the defined criteria. Most of the time there is more subjectivity to it than diagnosing a physical problem.
As with many things in life, education is the key. If you or someone close to you is having a “bad day”, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a condition. If the behavior continues, it might be an indication of a problem. Sometimes certain conditions are defined as “states,” e.g. a state of anxiety or a state of depression. Other times a condition could be defined as a “trait,” such as a particular personality disorder. States are more transient, while traits generally don’t change much over time and are thus harder to treat. You can consult Dr. Google as a first step, but if you suspect something, you should see a professional. Forgetting your keys once does not constitute a diagnosis of ADHD. But forgetting many things often MAY signify a problem. Remember, there can be multiple causes for a particular problem. Having a symptom does not necessarily confirm a diagnosis. Putting it into the physical world, a fever is a symptom. It can be caused by any number of conditions, e.g. virus, bacteria, inflammation, etc. This is why it’s best to consult a professional.
Often others are the first to observe difficulties. If many in your circle are observing a problem in you, think of them as a mirror. One person is just that, one, but if multiple people are telling you the same thing, you might want to think about getting help.
Even though things are better, mental illness still has a stigma attached to it. We can deal with a broken bone and allow it to heal, but we’re often told to “just move on” when it comes to a mental problem. Actually, that’s probably the worst advice you can get. Our brains don’t have delete buttons. Trying to “just forget” actually moves the issue from the conscious to the subconscious. All that does is give it more power. Not dealing with the problem only makes it worse. Don’t do that.
There are many mental health professionals out there, but you need to find the one that works best for you. In the physical world, a surgeon doesn’t need to have a strong connection to the patient (although it helps). She/he just needs to be good at surgery. Mental health is much more dependent on what’s called the “therapeutic alliance,” the connection between the therapist and the patient/client. Make sure you’re comfortable.
So, are you mentally healthy? Don’t make a snap decision, and don’t avoid a problem. Whatever you do, don’ be hesitant about getting help, whether it’s in the form of talk therapy, meds, or a combination (often the best of the three).
Until next time, this is Dr. Andrew telling you to “Be kind to yourself.”
Tikkun Olam- heal the world. Leave it a better place when you leave.