I have a theory about mental health that has proven useful to me in understanding my own mental highs and lows. I’m certainly not a psychologist or neurologist but since I have a mind, I’ve decided I’m qualified enough to develop a theory about the way the mind feels.
My theory involves the definition of mental illness as a concept. The phrase itself, I think, actually constitutes three meanings.
In the same way everyone with a body must take steps to care for her physical health, every person with a mind has a state of mental health she must maintain.
Relieving stress, setting and achieving goals, engaging in meaningful relationships and contributing to a community help to feed the mind and keep it healthy. When these regular needs aren’t met, the mind suffers. Just like every body has different needs to maintain optimum physical health, I believe each mind has different criteria for optimum mental health. The key to keeping your mind fit is to take the time to get to know it and to understand what makes it feel the best.
The Mental Flu
There are other times when one might get a mental infection, so to speak. I think of these times as a temporary but uncomfortable, sometimes even debilitating mental state caused by outside stimuli. A poignant life circumstance leaves one feeling acutely depressed, anxious, obsessive or manic.
A mental infection makes it harder to do all the mental maintenance I talked about earlier. And on top of that, a mental flu requires extra care or mental medicine—exercise, meditation, therapy or even actual medication. It may take a day, a month or even a year to feel better and there are countless variables that go into mental healing. The important thing here is not to ignore these “symptoms”. Your mind is going through something and it needs rest and care.
Chronic mental disorders are that mental ache that sticks with someone for an extended amount of time.
Like the mental flu, chronic mental disorders can also make it more difficult to perform the regular maintenance tasks. Things like getting out of bed, focusing on a task, eating a muffin, walking through a store or calling a friend can be the biggest obstacles of one’s day.
I think of these disorders as the mental version of an autoimmune disease. These can be genetic or develop out of certain circumstances, but they almost always fluctuate depending on how you treat them. If you learn your triggers, take your medicine (if you and your doctor decide it helps you) and live a lifestyle that discourages harmful symptoms, chronic mental disorders can be manageable.
However, it often takes a lot of trial-and-error, pain and determination to get to a place where you’re able to manage it on your own. That’s why obtaining help from a therapist, psychologist, mentor and/or support system of friends and family is so important. Everyone’s disorders, even those with the same diagnoses, are different so taking the time to understand your own mind makes feeling better a little bit easier.
Of course, this is just the way I understand mental health. If you feel comfortable, feel free to share some of your experiences in a comment below.