This month, our nation observes Mental Health Awareness Month and looks for opportunities to provide knowledge and insights into the ways we all think, feel, and behave. It’s yet another opportunity to bring forward an issue that impacts us all – a part of our health that doesn’t get enough attention despite the outsized role it plays in our lives.
This week’s substack is a simple one. I want us to kick off this year’s mental health awareness month with a fundamental yet important question:
What’s your vision for mental health?
I ask this question in almost every meeting. I ask it because I want to know where people see us going as a nation on such a foundational issue. In my years of working in the field, I am constantly amazed at how few times people actually have a vision. I think that without a clear vision for where we want to go for mental health, it doesn’t matter how many policy wins we have or what cool new programs we invest in as they may not move us forward on mental health. There has to be a goal we are working towards – a larger vision than what we have.
And did you know that goal setting actually restructures your brain cells to make you more successful?!
Most people are dissatisfied with the current situation for mental health. From the out-of-pocket cost to the long wait times, it seems we should be spending our energies thinking about where we go next to build an actual system for mental health. And what’s wild to me is that no matter how big the issue of mental health and addiction is, we still rely on systems and structures that are already in place rather than a vision of what could be. It’s a bit harsh, but the current set up just doesn’t work for most people.
This is in large part why we should be demanding more for mental health.
We consistently use stats like one in five adults in America live with some form of a mental illness, many of whom experience little to no outward symptoms. But that doesn’t really tell us the full story and sometimes confuses the general public about the differences between mental health and mental illness. Regardless of the prevalence, surveys show that public stigma still exists, and while mental health conditions are more widely discussed and accepted in society than in previous generations, the general perception of them remains largely negative.
One of the first and most productive steps our society can take in opening up discussions about substance use and mental health is doing away with the harmful “us versus them” mentality that so many people have. It’s much easier for us to ignore, downplay and dismiss problems that only happen elsewhere, or to other people. It’s considerably more frightening when we have to admit that our loved ones – or perhaps even ourselves – are affected. The sobering truth is, given the sheer number of people who experience mental health and/or substance use disorders, we probably all know someone who is currently dealing with something painful that they don’t regularly talk about.
When we do this – and consider that this is about all of us, this visioning exercise I am asking you about today takes on a different meaning.
When discussions about mental health are as fragmented as the systems we have created, people who are in need of care – neighbors, friends, and family – will invariably fall through the cracks and their stories missed. This month let’s work on coming together to create a community where everyone, regardless of age, race, or status can get the mental health care and support that they need. Make time to ask your loved ones how they’re doing, and be sure to really listen to their responses, even if it’s hard. And don’t neglect to make time for yourself.
Please take a moment and think about your vision for mental health. If you are so inclined, drop your ideas below, share with a friend, or send out a tweet. We need to be pushing for something different with mental health and sometimes that starts with just having a vision and goal of where we want to go.