Mental Health Promotion Day—May 20, 2017

Nutso. Mental. Looney tunes. Crazy. Bi-Polar. Schizo. Borderline. Loose cannon. Unhinged. Problem child. (And there are so many more I could list here...)

We've all heard 'em. And most of us have said them. We throw those descriptive words around as jokes. And sometimes we throw them at others like little truth darts wrapped in a nice blanket of jokey-ness. And occasionally--we mean them--because it's funny--or we just don't know what else to say to explain what we see in someone else or what we feel within ourselves. And we don't REALLY want to take the time to figure it out.

I don't know about you...but when I was growing up, we didn't talk much about 'mental health' or 'mental illness'. But it's not like mental illness is 'new'--it's always been a thing. But the difference is that NOW--we as a society--know much more about some of the causes and about the effects of mental illness on the person, the family and the world around them. We've developed medications that can help manage some of the day to day symptoms. And we have counselors and therapists and social workers that can listen and help give us tools that will help us develop coping skills so that we're better prepared when the feelings seem too big to handle.

So should be MUCH easier to have a mental illness TODAY--in 2017--than it was back in the old days. But is it?! In some ways, it's undeniably better. We are no longer drilling holes in people's heads to let the 'crazy' out. But if you ask someone currently dealing with their own mental health issues or concerned about it for a person close to them--they may wonder how far we've REALLY evolved. I think about someone suffering from depression--that struggles just to talk themselves into getting out of bed in the morning...or ever. Because the thought of facing the world, facing people and facing THEMSELVES, sucks the air right out of them and it leaves them in a big pile of feelings in that bed. Or, maybe they do get up and muster up enough 'something' inside of them to go to work. But then they speak sharply to a customer or a co-worker or have to fight back tears for 'no apparent reason'--and then suddenly people wonder what your problem is. If you're lucky, people think you're just having a bad day. Maybe you are. It happens to all of us. But MAYBE...there's actually something going wrong chemically in your brain. But try explaining that to an employer. A friend. Yourself.

So the truth, friends, is that we HAVE come along way in the arena of mental health. But we have a very long way to go. As therapists, we want to make things better for our clients. Doctors want to do what's right for their patients. And we want to do what's right for our families...for ourselves. So where do we start? I think we start by being honest with each other--and with ourselves. We need to ask questions about things we don't understand. And we need to ready ourselves for the answers to those questions. And we can stop thinking we know everything. I don't care how 'smart' you are--no one can truly know what it's like to be inside a person's heart and soul. And because of that--we need to show a little more grace. To each other--and to ourselves. People will ALWAYS be people. And a PERSON is always more than a label or a diagnosis. That saying about always being kind because you never know what someone is going through--is a really good one to remember. And focusing on Mental HEALTH in an intentional and proactive way as opposed to looking at only the illness part of Mental ILLNESS, is where we all really need to be if we have any hope of making things better for real. So we need to take care of ourselves. TALK to your friends--and listen too. Don't be afraid to mention to someone that things feel a little 'off' right now...and don't be afraid to talk about things that aren't comfortable or feel too big. There are ALWAYS professionals that can help you--and you shouldn't be afraid to ask for them. And just as important--is leaning in to your family and your friends. Let's all try really hard to talk about mental health as something that is good--and something to strive for--as opposed to something you just need to deal with or control. And most importantly--let's just be kind to one another. Talk to each other--and really listen. It isn't as hard as we make it seem sometimes...I promise.

Tana McKee, LMFT
Director, Children's Case Management
Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas