Mental Health Crucial to Wellness

Article excerpt

Byline: Debby Ganser and Sandy Moses For The Register-Guard

When we look at our health, we tend to think mostly about how we are feeling physically. We focus on only one part of our body - from the neck down - and ignore what is going on in the brain.

Yet we know from extensive research that physical and mental health are closely intertwined and equally important to our overall health and well-being.

On Oct. 31, 1963, President John Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Act to provide funding for community mental health centers and research facilities. That piece of legislation opened the door to new attitudes toward mental health and encouraged a focus on recovery.

We have come a long way in the last 50 years, but as a society our attitudes, awareness and attention to mental health issues still lag. The result: Mental illness bears a stigma, discrimination flourishes and people are hesitant to seek help for fear of being labeled and deserted.

We tend to be compassionate toward someone who cannot get out of bed due to the flu, cancer treatment or surgery. We will excuse them for missing family events if they are not feeling up to attending them. But when someone with clinical depression is unable to do the same, we often respond with anger, frustration or judgment.

In both cases, the person has a condition that for a time affects their energy and outlook. The difference is that we usually talk openly about a physical condition and have more understanding of its side effects, making it easier to empathize.

That is often not the case with mental illness.

Many of us learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid so we are equipped to help others should a physical emergency arise; we understand the importance of knowing the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke so we are better able to identify someone at risk in a timely manner.

Similarly, we need to take classes, get more accurate information and reduce the stigma related to mental illness.

We need to seek help in learning how to help others who might be in a mental health crisis, how to prevent mental illness from developing or becoming more severe, and how to promote overall mental health.

Fortunately, things are changing.

Slowly.

We are seeing a greater emphasis on integrating physical and mental health in our health care system. More primary care health care providers are including depression screening as part of their standard intake procedures. Research has increased in the fields of brain development, trauma, school climate and other factors that inform our policies promoting mental health.

However, we still need to change our attitudes and behaviors. We need to be better informed about mental health and mental illness if we are to make a difference.

So, what to do? Here are a few suggestions:

Become educated about mental health and mental illness. …