Mental Health is More than Mental

May is Mental Health awareness month, and Maternal Mental Health has been on my mind heavy lately.  Being in health promotion, and generally focusing on maternal and infant health, its honestly on my mind a lot, but after a recent talk with a distant friend (green weanie strikes again!) I am realizing that as a society, as a culture, we are in a strange transition with regards to mental health.

In the 60’s and 70’s, there was rise of what was known as ‘mommy’s helpers’ in the form of tranquilizers and anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Prozac.  For a long time these medications were highly advertised, and often aimed at housewives. Society at this time was making such quick medical advances that no one seemed concerned about long term effects. Mental health meds (along with antibiotics) were being prescribed left and right and with little thought to the consequences.

Flash forward almost 50-60 years and now as a society we are ‘oh shit!’ backpedaling so hard, that we may be backpedaling too hard. As a kinder, gentler, more natural and often described as ‘crunchy’ generation emerges,  there is fear that if one needs medication then they will become a medicated mombie and portray that Prozac and Martinis image. Additionally, in the larger society, and among many smaller cultures (such as the military and motherhood), there is a considerable amount of taboo for using medication.

More than Mental

As mentioned, there is some serious taboo surrounding mental health in our society.  There is a notion that if you have a mental illness or require professional help for mental health then you must be a bad person, or damaged, or maybe you just aren’t trying hard enough.  Much of the misinformation surrounding mental health stems from a misunderstanding on the physiological component of mental health.   While it is true, that sometimes we have normal and valid feelings like sadness, which can on occasion last longer  for some than others, or anxiety that requires special attention; there are times when an individuals body is not functioning correctly.  There can be misfiring neurons, or hormones that are not working properly. In cases like these, thinking that sucking it up or sunshine and exercise is going to correct the problem is as absurd as thinking that sucking it up or meditation can fix a heart murmur. It is a physical/physiological problem that is causing an inability to feel joy, or difficult with anger or anxiety. We don’t think a person with Type I diabetes needs insulin because they didn’t try hard enough. We know they need it because their body has a physiological issue.

Barriers to Medication

So on one hand there is the fear of becoming medicated mombies and on the other we now know that there are times when medication is necessary; how in the world are we supposed to know the difference? Quality medical personnel. Sound simple? I wish. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me they don’t want to be on medication because they didn’t like their doctor, or their doctor wouldn’t listen to them.

Finding a doctor can be difficult, but thanks to the internet it’s much easier to find information and even reviews on doctors. It’s also easier to find information on different medications. I am by no means suggesting you consult Dr. Google on what medication is best for you, go see a doctor and ask for those meds, but it can be a useful tool in becoming knowledgeable about different side effects, is that medication safe for pregnancy, or breastfeeding. This knowledge can be a powerful tool to help guide you through the murky waters of mental health meds.

What you can do to help

Maybe you are reading this article because you are struggling with some mental health issues, if that is the case I sincerely hope you will feel empowered to reach out for professional help.

If you’re reading this as a friend, family member, or spouse who isn’t struggling with mental health, I hope you will encourage others to seek professional help and let them know it’s ok to not be ok.

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