The monopolization of “Mental Health” conversations
Mental health is such a vast topic but we are still having a conversation as if it is one single thing.
Don’t get me wrong — it is great to have Mental health conversations. It is important to break the taboo. Absolutely. But as we do that, we should be careful that Mental health cannot be just about few conditions such as anxiety, depression etc.
I am not arguing that these conditions are not important. If anything, we need to have more “depression” awareness. We need to have more “anxiety” awareness. We need to have more awareness about “ADHD” or “Autism”. But we cannot talk about Mental health just from the perspective of one or two conditions.
What we need is a much more holistic conversation about Mental health where we talk about the different barriers and challenges different kinds of people go through at various points in their lives. For example, how many of us talk about the “Mental health” challenges of an immigrant? How about Mental health challenges of a child who has changed schools? Mental health challenges of someone who switched her careers in her 40’s?
Mental health issues cannot be restricted to few conditions or a certain demographic. This sets a very dangerous precedent that only “young white people problems” matter. The next generation is not just watching us, they are reading. And consuming the internet as well. We can not afford to set a narrow construct of what Mental health means, then we will end up having the same problem that we have today — “Being dismissive of real problems people face inside their minds because it does not fit the narrative”
Martin Seligman most famously said that “Lack of negativity cannot be happiness”. Similarly lack of anxiety or depression is not Mental health. It’s a part of it but not all of it. In spite of all the issues we face many of us have to earn our living, take care of our family, protect our children, safe guard our jobs.
It will be irresponsible of us to believe that Mental health problems are just a condition of our brains like a physiological diseases. In some cases it is, but for many, Mental health challenges reflect the conflict that our life is today. We live in a world where our DNA (body), Values (environment, culture), Meaning (purpose) and our actions (career, job) are in constant conflict with each other. This manifests as Mental health issues that get labeled and medicated.
The Mental health crisis today is basically the struggles we face in the modern world.
We need to have a much more specific conversation targeting different challenges people face. For example, if we look at the major problems families of children with ADHD have — it has a lot to do with their conflict with schools and teachers and other parents and less to have with the kid. It is not ADHD in the kid per se the problem, it is the inability of our school systems to cater to such kids that is.
It is important to highlight and dig deeper to these aspect of the struggles. Ultimately, Mental health solutions cannot be just in the form of medicines and digital apps. Societies cannot create problems and put it on the individuals to solve for themselves. Some solutions need structural changes to our society. Some need systemic changes. Some need changes in our perception. This can happen only if we stop parallelizing Mental health with physiological diseases like cancer and start looking at our own complicated psychology.
Almost all the Mental health apps and solutions today focus on removing anxiety or allowing us to relax. Giving a moment of calm is helpful but it is not going to change people’s reality and struggles. If you ask any young adult or working professional, big part of their struggle in life is finding meaning and pursuing it. How many of us talk about this as a mental health issue? But this is one of the reasons for Mental health crisis today. We cannot limit our pursuit of meaning to Netflix and YouTube videos. We need to help ourselves and our youth to find meaning in life and find a way to inspire themselves. All this is “Mental health” as well.
Mental health as an umbrella term is a double-edged sword. If we do not drive more meaningful and deeper conversations, the very awareness we are creating today might become a bane for those fighting severe mental health challenges.