Why I Hate The Phrase “Mental Health Week”
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Health and Wellness

Why I Hate The Phrase “Mental Health Week”

Because mental health isn’t just a week

Why I Hate The Phrase “Mental Health Week”
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In the middle of this past fall, I kept seeing this phrase appear on different posts in my newsfeed. Some posts were links to Buzzfeed articles while others to late night talk shows, news channels, and Youtube personalities. The content varied from simple everyday advice on how to get out of a bad mood to vivid descriptions of the headspace of those who suffer from well-known mood and personality disorders—obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety being the most common. Some of the content creators interviewed mental health experts and other mental health professionals. Other content came from the personal experience of the content creator. What they all shared was an intention to show a loving concern for those suffering from conditions of intense, life-challenging psychological pain and a yearning to be compassionately united with them. What they all didn’t share was their reception.

Now, before I start explaining myself, I want you to understand that I’m not an insensitive jerk (well, at least not intentionally). I think mental health professionals and the people who contact them to write articles say good things that everyone needs to hear. But I think some things are said by those less qualified or those less mindful of their difference from other people’s situations, which sends harmful messages that spread far and fast.

The first harmful message sent by mental health week is that mental health is something that can be taken care of, discussed, or only needs to be noticed for one week of the year. This message is ridiculous and offensive. Even someone with a rudimentary understanding of mental health should understand that taking care of the mind is a process involving more energy and commitment than going to get your teeth cleaned at the dentist.

A byproduct of this message, of distilling all this advice into one week, is the fetishizing of mental illness. While the advice may bring people together, the fact of it being brought to the forefront for only one week romanticizes that unity and makes it into a dramatic production of something that should be happening every day. The week treats mental illness and those who suffer from it as a representative rather than real people with real challenges.

The other harmful message concerns the advice given throughout the week. Often the advice centers on spreading information on what it’s like to live with a mental health condition or on trying to help oneself out of different psychological setbacks in everyday life. Some good articles end by encouraging others to seek help and to never hesitate to call a hotline. Sometimes a speaker might even encourage one to contact one’s nearest congressman. But the articles place little focus on what one can do to actively listen to the psychological needs of one’s community. The articles and videos put little focus on how one can apply that information and step forward with that awareness so that one can begin to listen in a real and present way to those around oneself.

That’s because the most difficult tension of any challenging situation is how to respond to it. And responding to mental illness and to the needs of those who suffer from it in a healthy way is not intuitive. It is something that must be taught to everyone and must be learned well. If we don’t have the right training and don’t put enough thought and foresight into our own words and actions, when we think we’re saying or doing something empathetic or something that will help someone, we don’t realize how much it actively hurts or makes things worse for other people. If there were more articles by those with licensed training on how to interact with and fulfill the needs of those in one’s community who suffer from mental illness, if those were articles that hit the tops of every newsfeed, and if that knowledge was as common as basic arithmetic, a lot of people could be helped in real ways. A lot of healing can happen.

Mental health week shouldn’t be a week. It should last all year. It’s 2016, let’s make it happen.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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