By Salma Metwally
This is Why MHY Aims to Include Everyone in the Discussion Surrounding Mental Health.
Mental Health vs. Mental Illness
Every mental illness is a mental health issue. But not every mental health issue is a mental illness. It is important that we differentiate between the two. Anyone can have poor health, whether they have an illness or not. However, not everybody has a clinical, sometimes incurable mental illness. Mental health refers to someone’s acute emotional or psychiatric well-being, how they are feeling in the moment. Everyone will suffer from poor mental health at some point in their lives, the same way everybody will get sick or catch a cold. However, not everyone will be diagnosed with a life-altering and potentially deadly psychiatric illness, the same way not everyone will be diagnosed with diabetes, cancer, or an autoimmune disease.
When I type “most common mental health issues” into the Google search bar, the first page lists exclusively results relating to mental illness. However, mental illnesses aren’t the most common mental health issues. Global prevalence ranges anywhere from <1% to 10% for any given mental illness.59 However, 100% of people experience some form of stress and grief. 100% of people feel hopeless after losing something important to them. Why are those not listed as the most common mental health issues?
We don't need "mental health awareness"
Mental health awareness has excluded mentally ill people from a movement that should have specifically aimed to help them. Hosting workshops and lectures on gratitude journaling, meditation, and healthy living are great ways of highlighting the importance of taking care of our (mental) health. However, these approaches are only solutions for problems that are already socially accepted and experienced by everyone. These are problems like stress or job dissatisfaction. No one gets stigmatized for complaining about how stressed they are or how unreasonable their boss is. No one has ever been stigmatized for grieving the loss of a loved one, only for becoming so depressed that they cannot even get out of bed and brush their teeth. No one has ever been stigmatized for being stressed by a 12-hour workday, only for being so overworked that they consider suicide. Everyone knows that a balanced and healthy lifestyle will lead to better (mental and physical) health, which are definitely important things to talk about, but there is no stigma in the first place. Discussions like these don’t really belong in a space that aims to help those suffering from stigmatized mental health issues.
We still hate sick people
I would like to think that, despite its flaws, mental health awareness has still managed to make progress in reducing stigma. I realize I am wrong when I see how we react to mental illness. We blame women with postpartum depression/psychosis for neglecting their children. We cringe away from schizophrenics. We blame addicts for circumstances that are beyond their control. We encourage restrictive eating disorders. We shun people who experience scary intrusive thoughts. We minimize the pain that mental illness brings while pretending to care about those who are mentally ill. Right now, we only care about mental health issues that can be experienced by everyone, but not about the individuals who actually face deep-running stigma and ostracization.
About the Author
Salma Metwally is a high school student from California. She enjoys researching political affairs, history, psychiatry, and neuroscience. In her free time, she likes to crochet and do Taekwondo. A fun fact about her is that she speaks four languages.