Growing up in the Pacific, I never quite grasped the meaning of mental health. It wasn’t until I moved to Australia and began studying and working, did I realise just how serious and devastating it can be to ignore the immense care your mental health requires.
More than ten years later, the conversation about mental health is being had more commonly amongst young people throughout the Pacific. But there are still many negative misconceptions that we hope to shatter with each young person that speaks to us about their struggle with the connection and balance between their mental health and career.
It’s kinda like a broken arm
If you break your arm, you’ll probably rush to the hospital, get a cast and take extra care until it’s fully healed. Your family and friends would probably coo over you, offer to help and might even go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. But if you announced you’ve been diagnosed with depression, do you think you’d receive the same treatment?
The answer for the majority of us is a loud, resounding no. Living with a mental health issue is like living a double life, trying to maintain the façade of happiness while struggling in silence, and what’s worse, trying to manage it alone. But having a mental health diagnosis is just as serious as a broken bone. It prevents us from living fully, freely and happily.
It also holds us back from giving our best in our careers. If you’ve struggled with mental health, you know how hard it is to get through each day, let alone focus on your work. If you had a broken bone, you’d probably take some time off work, at least initially, until it was healed enough for you to execute your daily tasks. You’d need to take the same care with your mind. If you’re feeling like you’re constantly struggling to feel happy, cope with every day life, find meaning or feel connected to others, it’s time to do something about it. Treat your mind with the same care as you would with any other part of your body.
We can all get a little cray-cray sometimes
Good mental health is more than just an absence of illness. If you don’t take care of it, you’re bound to get a little crazy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It only becomes an issue if you allow it to get so out of control that it affects your ability to function and when it starts to impact the people around you in a negative way. By taking steps to maintain your mental health, you are taking matters into your own hands without allowing it to get to a point where you have to stop everything to rebuild and regain your sanity.
For some of us, exercise, positive relationships, spirituality and religion or meaningful work help with having great mental health. But for many others, therapy and medication can be the most helpful option to live a life free of illness. Understand that it’s not about choosing between what’s right and wrong, but more so about what’s helpful and unhelpful for your mental health. For me, I find the antidote to anxiety and depression is to dive deeply into significant work that consistently produce a feeling of joy and purpose. Eating delicious and nutritious food, any form of exercise, meaningful conversation and therapy when it all gets a bit too much, are all things that help me maintain good mental health. Find what works for you and you’ll feel the difference, it’ll impact every part of your life – even your career. When you take care of your mental health, you’ll probably find that you’re more focused, productive and generally happier at work.
Don’t be afraid to speak up about it
Understand you have every right to speak up about your mental health. If not to your family and friends, at least to your doctor, or to a mental health professional. There’s a strong stigma around having a mental illness but until we look at it as seriously as we do any other health issue, and start speaking up about it more frequently, we might begin to break these unhelpful stigmas that affect our people so greatly.
In my own experience, speaking up and telling someone at work, then my doctor, and finally a trusted loved one, were the most difficult, but the most rewarding steps to recovery.
I’m not telling you to run and shout it on the rooftops (but if it helps, hey, why not?) but what I am saying is that you should try your best to start the conversation about mental health and why it’s so important. If you live with mental health issues, start by telling a trusted friend or family member. If you don’t know much about it, take initiative by asking people you know what their thoughts are, and how they’ve come to those conclusions. Do your research thoroughly and speak to professionals and people who live with mental illness before forming your opinions. Most importantly, try your best to show acceptance and understanding as opposed to judgement and disapproval when someone shares their mental health diagnosis.
Moving forward, I believe that the only way we can break the stigma and misconceptions around mental health if we understand it, speak about it and accept it’s presence without shame and judgement. We’re already on the right path, and we can each do our part by contributing to the movement towards mental health awareness in our communities, and in the Pacific.
Would you like to share your story about living with the challenges of having good mental health? We’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at email@example.com