It’s May and if you happen to be on social media a lot you probably have seen posts about mental health and know it’s mental health awareness month. Let’s get a few things out of the way, I am not American, I come from this little country you may have heard of: India. Where I’m from people react to the words "mental health" significantly different from how the world of Western social media does.
Walking through my campus this month, I’ve seen many campaigns and conferences on mental health being hosted and it’s made me stop and question what exactly I think about mental health. Then I realized, my definition of mental health is limited to mental disorders/illnesses and not having it. I’ve never actually thought about how stretching my limits and taking on more stress affects me.
This is where my culture has played into how I perceive mental health.
Growing up most Indian movies depicted people with mental health as either the butt of a joke or the antagonist, hence perpetuating the stigma and distorting the voice of those who actually suffer from mental illnesses. Most of my knowledge on the subject was due to the internet, and via a lot of trial and error, I waded through the sea of misrepresentation and romanticization of mental illnesses. But that’s just it, I still worked in a world of extremes where you either had a mental illness or were “neurotypical.” That is not how mental health works!
MentalHealth.gov defines mental health as “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.” It’s literally there in the definition! Yet so many people just can’t get that treating yourself and taking days off is not a sign of laziness or ineptitude but rather a way to take care of yourself.
Some days you just need to be by yourself and stay in bed. You shouldn't feel guilty for not going out. You don’t have to be studying constantly or suppressing how you feel because of how society would view you. You’re not going to just ignore an ache in your chest as being a part living, are you? So acknowledge your crippling fear of failing, of striking up a conversation, the stress you’re feeling right now because it’s not just life.
I know it’s hard to acknowledge let alone talk about, but if we don’t start talking about our mental health as just another aspect of taking care of yourself because of fear of social pressures or image, we are neglecting ourselves.
So let’s calm down with the memes on how stressed out or depressed we are and actually talk about how we are feeling. Yes, it’s hard and daunting because we don’t have a doctor to diagnose our symptoms. Instead, we have to figure it out by ourselves, but talking about your feelings and emotions is so much more important in this culture of toxic masculinity, increase in suicide rates, and lesser satisfaction in quality of life.
Mental Health is not a black and white subject but rather has many nuances and layers than we can quantize, but we can try to understand, try to empathize and try to live a better life.