Not Everyone Suffers From Mental Illness, But Everyone Has Mental Health #GetLoud

May 7, 2018

Extremely common and damaging misconceptions:

I have good mental health. After all, I don’t have a mental illness.

People with mental illness and myself are fundamentally different. I don’t need to go out of my way to be kinder to myself or practice meditation or whatever.

I don’t have a mental illness, so why should I make the effort to look into all this mental health, self-care, and self-love bullsh-

I’ve been there. All of the above, baby. That was me very recently, back in 2016. So if you know that you think these things, accept it, and don’t self-berate. Again, these are common misconceptions!

This week (May 7-13th) is the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)’s 67th Mental Health Week. In the past, their goal during these weeks was to combat stigma against mental illness and those struggling with mental illness.

However, given the growing movement to #EndStigma, the CMHA has shifted gears! They are focusing on defining mental health, which goes far, far deeper than the absence of mental illness.

Their campaign this year is #GetLoud about what mental health really is. So I’ll get loud here on my blog about what mental health is, and what it means to myself. This may or may not occur over a series of posts, so keep on the lookout!

For those who don’t yet know of me, I am Nicole Kim, a mental wellness blogger, sufferer of depression and social anxiety disorder, fifth-year Health Sciences student, daughter, older sister, Korean-Canadian, stationery lover, dog & cat owner, writer, musician, gamer, and highly imperfect female.

Photo by Matteo Catanese

Everyone has mental health. Mental health is not the absence of mental illness.

”Mental illness” vs. “Mental health”

Let’s get clear on this. As the CMHA writes (2018), 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health issue every year. However, every single one of us (5 in 5) have mental health. A person can have a mental illness and have excellent mental health. Conversely, someone without a mental illness can have poor mental health.

According to Mayo Clinic (2018), mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behaviour. All mental illnesses are diagnosed by psychologists or psychiatrists (two of the many types of mental health professionals) based on a set of criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

The CMHA (2018) defines mental health as a state of being, including aspects such as your self-esteem, distress, and stress levels. It also encompasses how you feel about yourself, others, and the world. Thus, one individual may have good mental health on some days, and worse mental health on others. This person may or may not have a mental illness.

Everyone has mental health. The idea that those without mental illness do not need to work on their mental health is misguided and false.

Poor mental health/good mental health and mental illness/no mental illness…any combination of these can exist at one time.

If you are confused, that’s okay! To illustrate this, I will use some personal examples. There are many spheres of influence for one person, but I will break it down to three: what people saw outwardly (those who did not know me especially), what was happening that they likely did not know about, and how I felt inwardly/thought about myself (whether or not these thoughts were true).

You’ll very quickly see that what you initially see does not paint a clear picture of what is going on both outside and inside of the individual (in this case, myself). BIG note that this is not how good/poor mental health looks like for everyone, nor does any mental illness look the same from person to person.

Good mental health + no mental illness (summer of 2015)

Outwardly, you would see:

  • A university student taking a huge break for themselves during the summer (no summer courses, no job, spending a lot of time playing online games and doing hobby-related activities)

What is also happening:

  • I am building relationships that are important to me
  • I am having fun and not taking myself too seriously each day
  • I am investing a lot of time into my hobbies and enjoying myself
  • I am going to Korea to visit my relatives for the first time in 13 years
  • I am working out regularly purely to stay physically healthy
  • I am taking a break – a much-needed break after the stressors of first year

Inwardly, I feel:

  • Fulfilled and content with where my life is at
  • That I could handle a couple of blips in the road because I am confident in my ability to get back up (and I sure did)
  • Supported by my friends and family
  • Excited about seeing my relatives and exploring my home country
  • Excitement about getting closer to a guy friend that I had a huge crush on

Poor mental health + no mental illness (much of 2nd year)

Outwardly, you would see:

  • I am holding a perfect 4.0 GPA
  • I am a very hard worker and a great asset to group projects
  • In between work I am very involved in my extracurriculars
  • I have a boyfriend, and it looks like it’s going well
  • I have few friends, but it’s clear that I am very close with these few

What is also happening:

  • I am working/doing extracurriculars nonstop. I have virtually no breaks in my 8AM-midnight schedule except for meals
  • Just kidding, I am usually doing work while eating my meals
  • I self-berate and ruminate every time I make a mistake
  • I have no tolerance for personal imperfections and am also a bit of a doormat for others
  • I’m finding it difficult to trust people, and am afraid of revealing any imperfections, academic or otherwise

Inwardly, I feel:

  • Massive self-imposed pressure to “stay competitive” with my peers
  • That I am inferior to many of my peers in terms of professional experience, technical knowledge, and presentation skills
  • Cycles between frustration and contentment with my relationship
  • Envious of most people around me and discontented with where I am at

Poor mental health + depression & social anxiety disorder (January 2017)

Outwardly, you would see:

  • Someone who seems to be really struggling
  • Slow movement
  • Some clinginess to friends, boyfriend
  • “I don’t really see her much anymore”

What is also happening:

  • Extremely burned out from the last 2 years of undergrad (from lack of self-care prioritization)
  • Sleeping through most of the day (low energy, feeling that all my efforts are futile)
  • Trying my best to seek support from loved ones but still finding it difficult to accept help
  • Total lack of healthy coping mechanisms. Back then, I struggled with self-harm and I sought instantaneous forms of gratification like alcohol because I could not find healthy ways to keep my head afloat
  • Sudden over-reliance on my loved ones where there hadn’t been before due to my fear of myself when I am alone
  • Seeing a psychiatrist for the first time; receiving diagnoses for the first time (generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, depression)
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Hospitalization
  • Meeting with social workers, occupational therapists, nurses, inpatient psychiatrists, outpatient psychiatrists – trying to get my treatment started
  • Sorting out academic responsibilities (ultimately choosing to cancel my semester to focus on improving mental health)

Inwardly, I feel:

  • Goddamn terrible – anxiety is through the roof, self-berating is constant
  • Neglected by my boyfriend, and feeling a lot of self-blame for his avoidant behaviour as well
  • Very supported by my friends and family, but finding it difficult to accept the support (“I don’t deserve their support”)
  • Emptiness, meaning that I numb myself to any and all emotions because my mind regards them all as being too painful to deal with
  • Hopelessness and helplessness

Good mental health + depression & social anxiety disorder (March 2018 to present)

Outwardly, you would see:

  • Despite some depressive episodes this year, I still ended with a 4.0 GPA because I was working so diligently on my mental health that I could handle them much better
  • I am maintaining physical health by working out regularly through dance and yoga and eating healthfully (mental and physical health are connected!)
  • I am nurturing my friendships and coping with the natural drifting that is occurring with some of my friends
  • I love trying out different ways to promote good mental health and self-care
  • I am usually bright and upbeat, but I definitely do have dips from time to time
  • I can deal with mood dips much better than in the past; usually they do not get too bad anymore (better coping mechanisms, less affected by distressing events past the initial peak)
  • I am passionate about promoting awareness and prioritization of mental health through many different spheres, and everyone who knows me knows this

What is also happening (and notice how these points are things you can learn and build even without a mental illness):

  • I am striving to build healthy habits, finding positive motivations to do so, and following through with the help of my bullet journal (e.g., meditation, stream of consciousness journalling, yoga, dancing everyday)
  • Much more often than not, I talk to myself with self-acceptance and self-validation through difficult experiences and challenging emotions
  • I have built the ability to notice when I am feeling or thinking ineffectively, and have become much better at processing my experiences in a more effective manner
  • I know how to identify and pick apart my “overall” state of “feeling bad” or “feeling good” into my different emotions (“emotional agility“)
  • I have learned plenty about cognitive distortions and actively challenge them as they come up in my life
  • I have many hobbies and interests that I play with, build, and share with others
  • I am letting go of the desire to control my circumstances and others around me. I am only responsible for the energy that I bring to the table; what others do with it is entirely up to them

Inwardly, I feel (and this is currently; it is not always the case!):

  • Fulfilled and very content with myself not only where I am currently at, but with where I know I will be able to go and with the past that led up to who I am today
  • Refreshed, because I am now unafraid to be completely authentic with everyone I meet about my imperfections and my struggles
  • Gratitude for the many gifts that the universe has given me in my life
  • Much more grounded in my own values, goals, and passions
  • Playful, for lack of a better term. I play a lot more with life than ever before. I take risks, laugh at myself more, and embrace spontaneity in all areas of my life (professional, academic, friendships, romance, family life, spirituality, etc.)

Everyone has mental health. Nowadays, gaining knowledge on the mental health movement is not only accessible, but easily shareable.

Your own journey to better mental health need not begin in a psychotherapist or psychologist or psychiatrist’s office (though I highly recommend counselling even if you do not feel highly distressed). Mental health tips and knowledge regarding keeping up good mental health are everywhere nowadays!

YouTube

Self-development is often being paired with self-care. On Youtube, creators such as Lavendaire, Kalyn Nicholson, and Rowena Tsai promote messages of self-love and provide practical tips in a visually-appealing and soul-lifting manner. Check out some of my (forever ongoing!) YouTube playlists to get started.

Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram

We hear a lot about the negative implications of social media. But these platforms can also be used to share information and share ideas. There are many mental health bloggers, self-help gurus, and self-love strivers on all social media platforms, if only people look for them. It is very easy to share and pass on knowledge nowadays – so we should make the most of it! I follow and share a lot of posts and mental health inspiration through all of these platforms, so check me out and check out others who do similar work!

Mental Health Awareness Organizations

Of course, there are also organizations such as the CMHA that work tirelessly to promote mental health through dissemination of knowledge and starting movements such as the #GetLoud campaign! Here are just a few more of these amazing organizations in North America (listed in no particular order):

Canada:

United States:

Everyone has mental health. We can start actively promoting good mental health by practicing being kind to ourselves.

On this blog, I promote two messages of self-love and self-care: embrace your imperfections and BKTY (be kind to yourself). I call the striving toward living with these core beliefs, the “imperfectionism lifestyle”. I believe that the imperfectionism lifestyle forms the foundation of good mental health.

To the CMHA and to you, my #GetLoud statement is,

“Good mental health means embracing your imperfections and being kind to yourself through all of life’s challenges”.

Always remember to BKTY (be kind to yourself),

Nicole (nicomochi)

References:

Fact Sheet for CMHA Mental Health Week. (2018, April 19). Retrieved May 6, 2018, from
          https://mentalhealthweek.ca/fact-sheet-for-cmha-mental-health-week/
Mental illness – Symptoms and causes. (2018). Retrieved May 6, 2018, from
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/symptoms-causes/syc-20374968
 Not Everyone Suffers From Mental Illness, But Everyone Has Mental Health #GetLoud | May 7-13th is the Canadian Mental Health Association (#CMHA)'s 67th Mental Health Week. This year, the aim is to #GetLoud about what mental health really is. I will show you using my personal experiences that mental health is separate from mental illness, and that mental health should be prioritized regardless of the presence of absence of mental illness. #bkty #mentalhealth #mentalillness #endstigma #awareness

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Natasha
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This is just what I have been looking for! Great post!

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