What Does Mental Health Mean?

When I first started working in the field of mental health care, I hated the term “mental health”. It felt so clinical and cold. Just the word “mental” brought up images of sterile rooms, straight jackets and institutions. I tried to find a title to label myself that felt warmer and more modern, not quite happy with “counselor” or “psychotherapist” because both counselor felt too fuzzy and psychotherapist felt too professional.

It’s not hard to see how we have a mental health stigma in this country. Maybe I’m a minority in not finding the right language to describe my profession, but it’s also because of the way our culture has labeled mental health care. In pop culture, for decades we’ve seen “mentally ill” described in frankly frightening ways. We’ve thrown around the words “crazy” and “insane” without much thought of the impact those terms have on those who do struggle with mental health. We’ve transitioned to “wellness” as being an approachable term to cover both mental and physical health because it’s also just more palatable and tangible. And so we have 10,000 + wellness professionals without any training talking about serious mental health issues on Instagram.

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And just the phrase “mental health issues” - what does that mean?

Does that mean you’re laid up depressed in bed for 2 days?

Does that mean you’re having panic attacks?

Does it mean feeling lousy and insecure?

Does it mean putting everyone else’s needs before your own?

Does it mean self-harm and suicide ideation?

Does it mean fighting with your spouse every night?

Does it mean not feeling loved by your parents and unlovable by anyone else?

Does it mean trying to do everything perfectly?

Does it mean binge drinking too much to cope with the sexual abuse?

Does it mean social isolation and distancing yourself from others?

Does it mean going to work with intense stress, migraines and IBS?

Does it mean worry so intense it sits on your chest like an elephant?

Does it mean resenting your children and spouse?

Does it mean burn out?

Does it mean having no control over your emotions?

Does it mean obsessing over doing things a certain way all the time?

Does it mean extreme fatigue?

Does it mean chronic low back pain?

Does it mean the inability to lose weight, no matter how many diets you’ve been on?

Does it mean having no hope and feeling no purpose at all?

Does it mean feeling like the worst mom in the world?

Does it mean constant fear of failure and imposter syndrome in your business?

Does it mean lying in bed at 2am worrying about your kids, to-do lists, money and your health?

Does it mean really good days and then really, really bad days in rapid cycle?

Does it mean spontaneously crying at random times without knowing why?

Does it mean thinking about that conversation with your friend over and over again figuring out how you could have said it differently or better?

Does it mean the steady flow of worry, sadness, and anger without much reprieve?

Does it mean self-doubt, insecurity and mistrust of yourself?

Does it mean binge eating to numb the feelings of unworthiness?

Does it mean lashing out at your family in uncontrollable rages?

Yes. It means all of these things. Mental health issues are not reserved to the severe, hospital type scenes you may be used to seeing.

Mental health care is taking care of your thoughts, your emotions and your behaviors.

If you are stuck in unhelpful thoughts that drive you from feeling peace, gratitude or happiness…you can get help. If you are feeling intense waves of sadness, anger, fear (or any subset of those emotions)…you can get help. If you are reacting to life in ways that do not align with your goals…you can get help.

I like to think of mental health as mental fitness. We have to work WITH our minds to build mental strength. Just like we have to do push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges to build our physical strength, we have to do the work to gain awareness of our thoughts, feelings and actions so we can be mentally stronger.

Because when we’re mentally stronger we can overcome more everyday obstacles like your toddler’s temper tantrum in Target, a call from your mother, an email from your boss, a poor test grade, or getting feedback from a loved one. We also can build the resilience to be okay in the midst of harder challenges like lay-offs, moving, sickness, death and divorce.

Having good mental health requires mental strength training. Practicing training your mind through journaling, mindfulness, meditation, or yoga are all excellent. Learning tools to help you practice at home is helpful too. And having someone help you with the tools may be the best answer. And it’s never a wrong answer to ask for help with medicine, special diets and herbs.

Would you expect to wake up tomorrow and be able to run a marathon? Maybe you could finish but would you be suffering the whole time? My bet is yes.

You do not have to suffer through this life. You can get mentally healthier.

It’s called mental health care.

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Kerry is the founder of reset brain + body, located in Plymouth, where traditional therapy is elevated through the integration of psychology, yoga and mindfulness. After nearly a decade in corporate human resources in Chicago, Kerry left the field to better help her busy and stressed peers handle life inside and outside of the workplace. Kerry can be found teaching meditation and yoga classes and seeing clients for psychotherapy and yoga therapy at reset brain + body. When she's not at reset brain + body, Kerry can be found spending time exploring her new hometown of Plymouth with her husband, baby boy and dog. Connect with reset brain + body on Instagram & Facebook, check out the class schedule, or contact us to book an appointment