Is it them or us?

I have long disliked the general divisive language around mental health. Although improvements are developing, I still find there is an implied message that there is a ‘them and us’ narrative informing how we think of mental health and mental illness.
If we were to use language that suggests a more inclusive indiscriminate narrative, we could all think about mental health differently. Perhaps then the stigma, shame and blame that is so often embedded with mental illness may begin to be challenged in a more meaningful way. When our mental health can be understood as a continuum that we all have within us, general understandings and dominant narratives would significantly change. This could even radically change access and provision of services that support, change and improve our mental health.
Let me explain the point that I am making. A continuum would recognise a range of mental health needs and symptoms, a continuous series no part of which is separate from its adjacent parts, although the ends of the continuum (the extremes) are very different from each other. A day of self criticism impacting your ability to complete tasks to a debilitating year of self loathing that reduces you to social isolation and withdrawal, are arguably both related to mental health but may require very different responses, support or help.
There was a time in which whenever mental health was spoken of that a serious mental illness was immediately referred to or implied. Knowing that mental illnesses can have devastating affects on only some people’s lives can encourage us to dismiss mental health all together. For example ‘I will not get mentally ill therefore I do not need to consider my mental health’. However as our general language is beginning to change we are beginning to understand that mental health is relevant to us all. I would add that mental illness is part of the mental health continuum (at the far end). Whilst you may or may not experience a serious mental illness in your life time, the mental health continuum is for ever present and relevant. Just like our physical health, on a continuum we may or may not experience a serious life threatening cancer , but we do experience physical health needs and symptoms requiring different responses, support or help. A stomach ache is unlikely to be a stomach cancer, but we would still consider what may treat or improve the pain.  A stomach ache may not require hospital, it may in fact disappear with remedies easy to purchase or strategies easy to use. We know that stigma, shame and blame invites us to ignore, avoid or dismiss our mental health needs, that could potentially move emotional pain or distress along the continuum with increasingly problematic effects.
Our physical and mental health is affected and informed by so many variables, such as our lifestyle choices, significant life events, our finances and resources, our relationships and our genetic vulnerabilities, to name a few. Surely if we can consider our physical health as relevant to us all with little judgement or shame and easy access to health care when needed, we can consider our mental health in the same way. We may then approach therapy and have access to therapy, (and other services and treatments) with ease and come with an acceptance that we all will need different support, help or treatments at times in our lives.

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