Just as there are many ways to support mental health awareness, the concept of awareness itself can mean different things to different people. For some, it means drawing attention to various mental health conditions and the need for more compassion and empathy. For others, it’s a call to educate ourselves and others—after all, learning about mental health challenges (and how common they are) can make them seem less scary or daunting, thereby helping to reduce stigma. For others still, mental health awareness means staying mindful of one’s own well-being and committing to self-care practices that promote a healthy mind and body.
For mental health professionals, it can mean all of these things and more. Working to overcome the everyday realities and cultural forces standing in the way of broad mental health awareness is essential, to be sure. But many good therapists would suggest it’s equally important to see beyond the barriers. Therapists hold a vision for what is possible, be it in the therapy room, our personal lives, or society.
So, let’s dream a little, shall we?
What would it look like, exactly, if mental health awareness were to be broadly achieved? How would that awareness manifest in our daily lives? What implications might that increased awareness have on society and the people we care about?
As part of GoodTherapy.org’s Mental Health Awareness Month campaign, we posed these very questions to some of our therapist contributors. Here’s what they told us:
If mental health awareness were to be broadly achieved, there would be an annual psychiatric health assessment included in everyone’s health plan, similar to many plans’ inclusion of one physical health assessment and one gynecological exam annually.
If this were part of everyone’s plan, it could reduce the stigma and shame of asking for help, which often delays people reaching out and accessing help in the first place. Early intervention can help reduce the impact and stress of developing more serious conditions later, and help people learn healthy skills and ways of managing difficulties associated with mental health conditions.
It would immediately depathologize mental health issues. They would be seen as similar to physical issues and treated with the kind of care, insurance reimbursement, and lack of blaming the victim that arthritis, for example, is usually treated with. Since most people experience some mental health issues in the course of a lifetime, shame over having them would diminish significantly.
The ubiquity of mental health issues would come out of the closet as more and more people sought treatment. Once it was widely assumed psychological challenges were just another facet of being human, people would feel freer to talk about their loved ones’ issues and actually get more support and compassion. (Now, they often feel so ashamed they don’t share this information and end up feeling even more isolated and alone.)
The largest impact would take a significant amount of time to achieve. As everyone shared their experiences more openly, whether mental health, physical, financial, vocational, or familial issues, it would be natural to feel a different kind of kinship and compassion for fellow travelers. I can only hope this sense that we’re all in this together would catalyze a global unity that, in the best-case scenario, would lead toward greater cooperation among people and nations.
Awareness is the first step in change. With awareness comes the opportunity for choice, and with choice comes the opportunity to change. My hope is that mass awareness will lead to mass change and an end to the stigma of struggling with mental health issues. I imagine a world where the people I work with in therapy don’t have to make excuses about why they need the same hour off of work every week for fear of losing their jobs due to stigma. I imagine a world where people with depression and bipolar no longer fight with themselves to take daily medication because they are no longer seen as “weak” or “damaged” for doing so. In this world, Zoloft is just as shameful as insulin or blood pressure medication—in other words, not at all.
“I imagine a world where the people I work with in therapy don’t have to make excuses about why they need the same hour off of work every week for fear of losing their jobs due to stigma.”
The ability to be fully yourself, to live authentically in your unique truth, is an innate human need. As each of our truths look different, awareness and acceptance of all manifestations of the human experience is vital for everyone to experience self-actualization. With an end to stigma, self-care and resourcing as unique as each individual would be an expected and welcomed part of life rather than something that was only paid lip service. Secret-keeping is a draining activity. Being freed from constantly having to hide a piece of yourself would allow folks to truly live out loud, fulfilled lives.
As therapists, we are encouraged when we witness a person’s progression from dark to light, from pain to joy, from conflict to peace. Yet we know there are so many others who let fear and the control of a mental health stigma stop them from reaching out for the care they need and realizing the same life-changing transformation.
We dream of a day when mental health awareness translates into a new norm where:
- We discuss it among our friends and family with the same openness and comfortable disclosure we have when talking about our visit to the dentist or our hair stylist.
- Teens feel confident, and without shame, in seeking help when they believe life isn’t worth living.
- We no longer accept and endure self-hatred.
- We aren’t judged for revealing our emotional pain.
- Our mental health is given the same respect and attention as our physical health.
- Those who suffer silently can come out of the shadows and know what it is to live fully.
Tell Us What Mental Health Awareness Means to You
Now it’s your turn. What would broad mental health awareness look like to you? If awareness were to be achieved on a large scale, would you be more likely to seek the support of a therapist? We encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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