The difference between mental health & emotions

I don’t really like a lot of mental health awareness campaigns because I feel like they don’t actually raise much awareness (ie they say ‘talk to someone about your mental health’ – what does that really mean?) but also they target the wrong things.

Acknowledging that mental health has a huge impact on physical health is important. Recognising that mental health problems can be more disruptive to your every day life than some physical illnesses is also important. But we live in a country where it’s considered un-British to answer the question ‘how are you’ honestly, and displays and discussions of emotions are actively discouraged.

Instead, when someone is struggling with something in life, things get bottled up and eventually come out in an uncharacteristic (for that person) way. Then other people in their life might encourage them to go to the doctor to ‘get help’ and they’re potentially diagnosed with a mental health problem like depression or anxiety.

But here’s the thing. You can be depressed but not have depression. You can be anxious but not have anxiety. You can be restless but not have ADHD. Those things are all emotions which, as humans, we all experience from time to time. Sometimes they crop up regularly in a short period of time. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have depression or anxiety permanently.

So the first reason I don’t necessarily like mental health awareness campaigns is because they sometimes imply that you’re either ‘mentally healthy’ or ‘mentally ill’, when, actually, somebody might be having perfectly normal and natural emotional responses to something.

Circumstance and situation makes up a lot of how we feel about something. I watched a documentary where a psychiatrist worked with prisoners and she said that part of her job was assessing whether inmates were depressed because they’re in prison, so they’re naturally going to be feeling low in mood, or if their depression was long term and chronic. There were things she could do to help inmates struggling to come to terms with their situation, but she said she treated those differently from inmates with a diagnosis of depression. Who wouldn’t be depressed at some point when they’re in prison? It’s a normal, emotional response to a terrible situation.

Therefore, the second reason I don’t like the awareness campaigns, is because they make talking about emotions and state of mind a way bigger deal than it should be. It should be ok to admit that something is hard or upsetting to someone else without being told to go to your doctor or be told you might have depression. I’m not saying don’t go to your doctor when you experience distressing emotions, but why medicalise something when it doesn’t necessarily need it? People get back ache for no physical reason, they go to their doctor to get it looked over and then they check in with their doctor if they still have a problem in a few weeks- it doesn’t mean they get diagnosed with something there and then.

Medicalising something implies that you should be/can be ‘cured’ of something with medication. Mental health doesn’t work like that, it needs constant work and attention. It’s like going to the gym for 6 months, getting the body of an athlete and assuming that it’ll stay like that for the rest of your life even if you don’t do any more exercise. People with long term mental health problems have to constantly manage their condition in the same way that someone who has asthma might have to. Some periods of time will be better than others and specific things might trigger it, much the same as with asthma, but it doesn’t just go away overnight like a cold does. You don’t have a cold forever just because you’ve had it for a week, and you don’t just get over depression because you did a 6 week counselling course and took some antidepressants.

The third reason I don’t like awareness campaigns is that they can end up trivialising chronic mental health problems in their bid to raise awareness to the masses. If you’ve got severe depression you’re not likely to seek help when you’re suicidal if there are people who seem to be coping with it better than you when they possibly shouldn’t have been diagnosed with depression in the first place. Because the whole nature of mental health illnesses is that it messes with your head and you think you’re not deserving of help at the best of times, never mind when you’re comparing yourself to other people. And, unfortunately, it’s these people who are most active in vocalising about their depression/experiences on social media or in conversation. (I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying it can be unhelpful to vulnerable people).

Because we’re British, we’re supposed to be positive and share inspirational posts and not be negative at any point. Well that’s just stupid. Our bodies wouldn’t be made with the ability to have negative emotions if we weren’t supposed to experience them at some point. It’s healthy to get mad, to cry, to have a rant. All emotions are temporary, even happy ones. It’s when the emotions start to become permanent and prolonged and an engrained way of thinking that we need to check in with our mental health.


One thought on “The difference between mental health & emotions

  1. Janet SinclaIr says:

    Well said! We are complex beings, made up of body mind & soul (or spirit, some people prefer) and each interacts with the other two and each is affected by circumstances over which we may or may not have influence or control. So the stiff upper lip can be a blessing or a curse, throwing a wobbly can be liberating or acutely embarrassing, or both! Life is full of challenges & pitfalls, we all have the resources to deal with them, but sometimes we need to have people alongside to steady our frail little boat on the choppy water. Keep sharing your insights, they are inspiring and thought-provoking, and we need to read them!


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