Okay, so today’s rant starts with a situation I encountered this week.
I was trying to get my insurance figured out, and had to go through a questionnaire related to my health. One of the questions asked something to the effect of “have you ever had any conditions related to your mental health? If so, how many episodes have you had”.
Alright. so riddle me this- how often do you have “mental health” — right… always. Obviously, the insurance company wanted to cover its bases to know the type of customer they are signing on to protect, but I thought this was a pretty silly and inappropriate question. Who honestly asks “how many mental health episodes have you had”. Phrasing things like this only worsens the stigma that people have towards talking about, supporting, and receiving treatment for mental health conditions. Despite some really good efforts to de-stigmatize talking about mental health (like Bell Lets Talk, etc), we are still here. If people actually truly understood the impacts of mental health these questions wouldn’t be written like this- people would know that mental health is something that we ALL have ALL the time, and that is in constant flux. Some people experience symptoms of more chemical imbalance, while others may not. How are you supposed to quantify an “episode” of mental health? How bad do your symptoms have to be for it to “count?”
Almost one in five people experience challenges over their lifetime with mental health, and over 80% of people who have mental health challenges in adulthood started to experience these challenges during childhood. How can we effectively support peoples’ mental health when society as a whole has so many misconceptions about it? This week at work I heard someone say that someone was off “just on stress leave not for anything real”. Who do we think we are to judge others for something we know nothing about. Everyone’s mental health is so complex and individual, we have no right to minimize their experience.
It frustrates me a lot as a person but also as a nurse when I hear some people say the things they do about patients who struggle with mental health challenges in the hospital setting. Ultimately, if we did better at supporting peoples’ mental health we wouldn’t need to admit them to hospital or do this in crisis. We are not doing a good job of that, and it is not going to get any easier. Resources continue to dwindle and lose funding while the epidemic of people with mental health challenges rises. We are a burdened and broken system not equipped to deal with it. Even worse, mental health takes constant work, resources, support and care, and it ripples through every part of our life, and everything we do.
My request of all of you reading is this: the next time you hear someone diminishing the impact of or stigmatizing mental health, please SPEAK UP about it. We may not be able to fix this incredibly large broken system, but we can do our own small part. It’s the elephant in the room. And the more power we give it, the more stigma wins.