The need for addressing mental health issues is never more apparent than after a horrendous tragedy such as occurred in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018.
Besides the unmitigated anguish of parents, the fear survivors must have experienced during the event and the sad loss of friends and fellow students, the vast majority of those of us removed from direct involvement still experienced a wide range of emotions: anger, sadness, sympathy, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness… the list goes on. We cry, “Why can’t something be done?” We pray, donate and call on jaded politicians to enact meaningful gun control legislation (what possible rationale is there for civilians to own assault weapons?).
These and other reactions to tragedy stem from our own need to do something. Unfortunately, none of the courses mentioned address the issue of compromised mental health. Time passes and public outrage soon cools, leaving us as vulnerable as before.
So, what can be done?
The answer lies within you, the reader of these words. Yes, you personally share the responsibility of maintaining society so that it is beneficial to all who live within its generosity. But how, specifically?
First, accept that no one, you and me included, has perfect mental health and that improvement is always possible. By practicing the process of mental health awareness, you become aware of any areas within yourself that need attention. Mental health awareness involves understanding what mental health is, taking steps to avoid obstacles to change and then replacing problematic beliefs (that are at the core of thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behaviors) with ones that are more adaptive. Do not attempt the second step until you have completed this first.
Second, you can advocate for individual mental health awareness within your sphere of influence. For example:
Parents: make practicing healthy mental health a priority in front of your children. They will learn from your example.
Teachers (from kindergarten through graduate school): make mental health awareness a part of your curriculum.
Mental health professionals: recognize that healthy mental health means far more than simply the absence of mental illness. Make mental health awareness a part of your protocols beyond assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Your task is incomplete until you do.
Addictions professionals: be aware that healthy mental health is essential to successful recovery and make achieving it a part of your therapeutic program.
Coaches, consultants and mentors: guide your clients towards healthy mental health by educating them on the mental health basics. Your role is educational; refer to a mental health or addictions professional when indicated.
Policy and lawmakers: accept the responsibility of assuring that every policy/law conforms with the tenants of healthy mental health.
Whom did I leave out? Whoever you are, you influence someone simply by your existence. That makes it important for you to practice and model healthy mental health even if you do nothing else. You may never know what difference you make in someone’s life simply by the way you live your own.
Once you become aware of what healthy mental health is, you will be in a better position to recognize signs of compromised mental health that could lead to an untoward or even tragic event. You could then influence a change and thereby prevent a tragedy that might otherwise have occurred. Of course, you’ll never know what might have been but you’ll have a sense of accomplishment from knowing that you have done something worthwhile.
For more information on using this concept of healthy mental health for yourself or within your sphere of influence, contact me at FrankHannah@mentalhealthstrength.com.