*This entry was originally posted on Medium on July 5, 2016*
What is mental health? Before I go into my entry, I would like to share with you a definition and some facts from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO’s definition of mental health is:
“A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”
Here are some random facts on mental health (from WHO):
- Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems
- Mental and substance use disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide
- Mental disorders are important risk factors for other diseases, as well as unintentional and intentional injury
- Stigma and discrimination against patients and families prevent people from seeking mental health care
- Globally, there is huge inequity in the distribution of skilled human resources for mental health
There are 5 key barriers to increasing mental health services availability (also from WHO):
- The absence of mental health from the public health agenda and the implications for funding
- The current organization of mental health services
- Lack of integration within primary care
- Inadequate human resources for mental health
- Lack of public mental health leadership
Being someone who is seeking information on mental health, I’m shocked at the lack of attention paid to it. Sure, there is a lot of information online but there are so many opinions. Who is right? Is there a right answer? I assume no because as far as I know, nobody has truly figured out how the brain works.
Mental disorders of all kinds impact so many people. Yet it is seemingly swept under the rug. It is not viewed as a legitimate issue. People tend to shy away from the unknown and there is a lot we do not know/understand about our psyche.
The last six to seven months I have been trying to educate myself on mental health because I have reached a stage in my life where I am dealing with certain anxieties and stresses and realize that I have no real method of coping. I realize that I do not truly understand what these things are and it is really upsetting.
I have always had this baseline level of anxiety that, to me, seemed completely normal. I just assumed everyone had that same baseline, and to a degree I still think that. There is no person that is devoid of anxiety as every human being in this world goes through ups and downs. That’s just…life.
But what I did not realize growing up was that people experience anxiety in vastly different ways and in, equally, different levels of intensity. In my household, we never talked about mental health. Physical health on the other hand was discussed all the time. I was overweight as a child and remained overweight until I was about halfway done with university. My parents always wanted me to lose weight.
Maybe it’s a Korean thing, but when seeing relatives, there is always a criticism that they share with you, about you. And it’s usually based on your physical attributes. Or if you are of a certain age (18 or older) they will start asking if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend. I digress, as this alone could be a whole other topic that I can touch upon another time.
Back to physical health. Long story short, when it came to health, that is all that mattered, or at least that is all that was taught to me. Sure, in high school health class we talked about mental health, depression, anxiety, etc. But it was so out of context for me. I even joked about it.
My senior year quote was, “Depression is like trying to slay a dragon with a plastic knife.” I did not use that quote because of the content. I chose it because of who said it (a guy from the class below mine that had a penchant for saying odd/funny things), not because of what it actually meant to me. At that time of my life, it meant nothing. I was not depressed. I did not even really know what depression was at that point.
Fast forward twelve years and here I am, a week into my thirties and am almost as clueless about mental health as I was back in high school. The main difference between now and then is that I have experienced more in life and seemingly have more self awareness than my younger self.
In the last year and a half I have experienced more significant change in my personal life since I graduated from university. My relationship with my girlfriend ended, I left the company where I started my career and worked for six years, and I realized that I experience and possibly suffer from several forms of anxiety.
I had mentioned before that I always felt that I had a baseline level of anxiety that was considered normal. Normal in the sense that it is something everyone has and experiences. I couldn’t tell you exactly when but, as if some mysterious force flicked a switch in my brain, my anxiety levels elevated and have not come back down.
Sure, I have good days (even weeks) where I am completely happy and feel on top of the world. But I more often feel the complete opposite.