What does it mean to be ill? And who gets to decide which illnesses are worthy of being researched, treated, discussed, and valid? Physical illness and mental illness are not treated equally. As a society, we are slowly making it ok to talk about mental illness, but the stigma is still there. Our culture has done an excellent job of empowering people to seek treatment for various physical illnesses. When we become physically ill, as in our bodies are not functioning the way they usually do, we are encouraged to seek medical treatment. Indeed, it has taken time for us to be able to say the word “cancer” without whispering it, and now, notice how much compassion we have for those struggling with and how empowered we feel to treat cancer. Notice we cannot say the same about mental illness.
We consider annual physical check-ups and teeth cleaning twice a year (those of us who don’t fear the dentist!) the norm and even recommended. Why do we not recommend “mental health check-ups”? Take a moment and ask yourself, why, if we value healthcare in our culture, why does it matter whether it is physical or mental health? When we struggle with our thoughts, feelings, and reactions to life experiences, it makes sense to get mental health treatment.
A mental health check-up and/or therapy is just as necessary if not more so when working toward wellness and healthcare. Why? Because, if, as a society we are unable to cultivate compassion for one another, driven by irrational belief systems, and unable to manage our emotional reactivity, our relationships will suffer. Family functioning will suffer, teamwork will suffer, and our interdependence upon one another for survival will suffer. Our very survival is at risk if we cannot manage our relationships in healthy ways. No one is expected to know how to have healthy relationships. It is learned behavior, and a skill set to be taught. How can parents be expected to teach their children about healthy relationships if they never learned it either? So dysfunctional relationships, poor communication skills, and inadequate coping skills are getting passed down from generation to generation.
We live in a time where mental health awareness and wellness is peeking out from under the rug. There are tons of books and teaching aids available now so no one has an excuse to say they didn’t know how to resolve conflict better, teach mutual respect in the home, encourage positive self-esteem, and engage in a healthy intimate relationship. Anyone who has had a positive counseling or psychotherapy experience is encouraged to share it with the world, as it is a gift to share wellness, not hide from it in shame.
I dream of a world where an annual mental health check-up is the norm beginning at the age of 3.This is the age that children with educational and medical limitations are screened at the school level for accommodations and programming for special needs. We are all special and we all have needs. We can begin to take better care of ourselves by focusing not just on the medical health care, but also mental health care.
Serving individuals, couples, and families in the public and private sector for 30 years, Laurie earned both a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology, and Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Maryland. Licensed as a Clinical Social Worker in Virginia, Laurie is certified as an LCSW supervisor. In her private practice in Fairfax, Virginia, Laurie provides treatment for: depression, anxiety, couple issues, parenting, physical and emotional trauma, stress management, eating disorders, life transitions, chronic illness, and grief and loss. She provides mental health consultation to private school programs, as well as presents custom workshops and staff development about various mental health topics. As a participating provider with “Give An Hour”, she offers pro bono mental health services to military personnel and their families.