Does “Too Much Talk” About Mental Health Undermine Mental Health?

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**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not  intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer

There’s so much talk about mental health in recent times, which of course seems like a good thing. It’s important to raise awareness on a topic that always seems to need a great deal more discussion and understanding, and to ask relevant questions, such as “how do people become so mentally unwell,” “what can be done to help people get well,” and “how can we prevent mental illness from taking root in the first place?” But just because people are talking about mental health and asking questions, does this mean that people are actually doing what’s needed as individuals to improve their mental health?

In my own experience working through severe mental health issues, as well as supporting others facing similar problems, I would have to say that getting serious about mental health (and therefore doing certain things that result in getting healthy) may be a lot harder than it seems. To be completely frank, I have come to believe that people tend to talk about what’s wrong much more than actually doing what’s needed to make changes. It’s much easier to talk about what’s wrong, including complaining and blaming, than it is to take full independent responsibility.

Not to say that mental illness isn’t a collective disease, because I believe that it is, but rather that the focus of persons wanting to improve their mental health sometimes gets stuck on the collective aspects of illness. For instance, complaints about the people we share our lives with may sound like “if only they could listen better or understand me better, then life would be better,” or, “if only they cared more about mental health, then life would be better.” It might also be observed again and again that systems of support fall hopelessly short in meeting the needs of so many struggling people. While these types of criticisms very often have elements of truth, to focus on them can become a form of unconstructive preoccupation.

The ways that people behave in processes of mental rehabilitation could perhaps be compared to how people behave in matters of physical rehabilitation – talking about problems more often than taking action on it. On the other hand, to see a gym loaded with people working on their physical health does seem fairly common these days, perhaps suggesting that people are far more willing to take care of their bodies than their minds. I suspect this is true on some level, meaning for example that it’s easier to face excess body fat than it is to face unhealthy thoughts and painful emotional states. The benefits of taking action on physical health also usually include having something more obvious to show off (e.g., changes in body), whereas mental health benefits are much less tangible (e.g., less emotional upset, more inner peace), meaning that the motivation to take action on physical health probably comes from a different place.

Either way, whether considering physical or mental issues that need to be faced, there can be some hard work and lifestyle changes involved, and quite often people do not follow through with the work and make the necessary changes to experience the desired outcome. In some instances, the lack of doing something constructive to improve health is related to lack of knowledge or know-how. But even after learning how to take better care of health issues, there can still enter in a variety of reasons and rationalizations for not following through. Not to say that the reasons for not following through don’t sometimes have legitimacy (e.g., bogged down with various life demands); however, the end result of insufficient follow-through usually means the same thing: No mental health benefits experienced.

The most common reasons and rationalizations for not following through with mental health activities, in my opinion, relate to the notion that these activities will take away time from money-making, perceived obligations, leisure pursuits, and other activities deemed “more important.” It’s as though “there is no time in the budget” for mental health. But even though people may spend most of their time doing these “more important things,” they may still want (and need) improvements to their mental health. When there is limited perceived time available for practicing mental health skills and people still claim to care about their health, the end result will probably include snippets of talking about the importance of mental health (possibly on social media and other formats).

And this leads up to what I believe is a very legitimate motivational question: What does it take to switch from investing excessive time in talking about mental health to doing mental health activities that create potential for real change (e.g., meditation classes, breathing classes, thought challenging exercises, communication practices, expressive hobbies, satisfying playfulness, time in nature, reading self-help books, etc.)? A related question might be “How can we change mental health from something optional in our life to something obligatory?”

If you really think about it, you have much more power over your own health than you do over how much others invest themselves in this important topic. In fact, you probably have zero power over other people and the world in respect to mental health, and so bringing mental health awareness to their attention may have a very little impact. Not to say that mental health awareness isn’t important, but do we put these activities into their proper perspective before considering how much time we invest in them?

If I was to gauge the relative importance of investing my time in mental health awareness activity -versus- time invested in real self-help activity, I would now put it in a ratio of 10% awareness building and 90% self-help. The difference is quite large and I have come to believe this is the wiser approach, since talking about mental health is usually just that, talking. To change the brain and the unhealthy thought, emotion, and behavioural patterns that can ruin us, the types of activities we choose and the depth of investment in ourselves must match the challenge.







photo credit: Damian Gadal Endless via photopin (license)

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