Mental Health Conversation

Mental Health: The more we talk about it, the easier it gets

4 minutes to read
Molly Farrell

Molly Farrell

BSci majoring in Psychology, PGDp in Health Science

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Note — The article was checked and updated June 2023.

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We are living in a world where neglecting our mental health has become too easy, one could argue it is almost habitual. Talking about mental health is still seen as a weakness. In the past, mental health has been a taboo topic and poor mental health has been branded as frailty. 

Worldwide, 4% of people have been diagnosed with mental health disorders. It is estimated that nearly 50% of the population are having some sort of psychological distress in their life and are not seeking help. 

Statistics show approximately 30% of New Zealanders will experience a bout of mental distress at some stage of their life. So, why are we reluctant to discuss it?[1]

Mental health and Wellbeing Pillars

One misconception that greatly impacts our general health is that our mental health operates as a silo amongst the other pillars of our wellbeing. In reality, not one pillar is isolated from another.[2] 

Rather, our physical health, genetic make-up, life experiences and cognitions are all tightly webbed.

These reflect in our behaviour, attitudes and lifestyle choices.

In appreciation of these linkages there are significant ways that we can all improve our mental health and help improve the mental health of others.

Isolation and mental distress go hand in hand

In New Zealand, anxiety and depression are the most prevalent forms of mental distress. On average 19% of adults have experienced symptoms of anxiety and 20% have experienced symptoms of depression.[1] A large contributor is the feeling of isolation. This brings us back to confronting the cloud of stigma.

RELATEDIncrease in Anxiety: Are we “The Anxious Generation”

Mental health doesn’t operate as a silo amongst the other pillars of our wellbeing

Stigma has the tendency to exacerbate the negative impacts of poor mental health such as low self-esteem and weakening relationships.[3] It seems the more an individual needs mental health support, the less likely they are to reach out, compounding their lowered self-esteem and isolation.[4] 

RELATED More on low self-esteem and isolation in our article on Video Game Addiction.

Luckily, a sense of belonging is strongly linked to increased wellbeing and increased purpose in life.[5] As a result, human connection has the power to combat these feelings of isolation and consequently increase wellness and decrease stress.

Mental Health and Conversation - the first step towards change

The most powerful tool we have to reduce stigma is conversation. The more we talk about it, the easier it gets. Let’s examine how we can approach this.

Checking in with colleagues, friends and family on a regular basis is a great way to start. As we all know, talking about mental health is difficult, which is why in these cases being direct can be very beneficial.

Human connection has the power to combat the feelings of isolation

“How are you feeling mentally today?” is a perfect way to open these doors. The more frequent these check-ins occur, the more normal these conversations become and we shouldn’t underestimate the significance of being willing to listen.[6]

This reinforces the idea that mental illness or distress needs to be treated as we treat our physical needs.[3] Therapy and medication are two fantastic tools in need of being normalised. These treatments need to be talked about with the same comfort we talk about insulin treating diabetes.

The line of conversation used when checking-in on our loved ones must be a two-way street – we too must offer vulnerability. Being vulnerable ourselves may trigger deeper conversations and invite those who feel isolated into a community that acknowledges rather than judges.

In the past, mental health has been a taboo topic and poor mental health has been bracketed with weakness and frailty. Fortunately, these themes are shifting. Now we need to accelerate the change to match the growth of the problem.

No issue is too small, so let’s talk

Please check our Mental Health page for similar articles, where we talk about topics that are not easy to talk about. Also, if you liked the article, please let us know in the comments below.

Mental Health and Wellness Advocate

With extensive experience as a mental health support worker, Molly knows first hand the impact our mind can have on our physical, emotional and social wellbeing. She has completed a Bachelor’s of Science, majoring in Psychology, and a postgraduate diploma in Health Science, which gives her an opportunity to combine theoretical knowledge with practice.

Molly’s goal and focus is to provide others with education and awareness on how we can improve our mental wellness and of those around us. 

References

(1) Kvalsvig, A. (2018). Wellbeing and mental distress in Aotearoa New Zealand: Snapshot 2016. Wellington: Health Promotion Agency.

(2) 8 Dimensions of Wellness, (UMD) University of Maryland’s Your Guide to Living Well. https://www.google.com/url?q=https://umwellness.wordpress.com/8-dimensions-of-wellness/&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1636659222963000&usg=AOvVaw2tmXnjswYMnnJrTvv13YzB

(3) Corrigan, P.W, Druss, B.G & Perlick, D.A. The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care. Psychological Science in The Public Interest. 2014, 15(2);37-70. https://www.google.com/url?q=https://journals.sagepub.com/stoken/rbtfl/dDpyhM2zRi.Fg/full&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1636659222968000&usg=AOvVaw32JFN0kkOESZuS57K53gaN

(4) The Lancet Editorial. The health crisis of mental health stigma. The Lancet, 2016, 387:1027. https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00687-5/fulltext&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1636659222972000&usg=AOvVaw2eqMF20QPWkASmhRk_C7pj

(5) Yanos, P.T., DeLuca, S.J., Roe, D & Lysaker, P.H. (2020). The impact of illness identity on recovery from severe mental illness: A review of evidence. Psychiatry research, 288. https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2927828/&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1636659222975000&usg=AOvVaw0epjgNVEfoPy1WLCVy1J4_

(6) American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2021). “I care about you”. How to start (and continue) a conversation around mental health: A RealConvo Guide from AFSP. AFSP. https://www.google.com/url?q=https://afsp.org/story/how-to-start-and-continue-a-conversation-about-mental-health-a-realconvo-guide-fr&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1636659222979000&usg=AOvVaw2voaLmQlcNjxWGJGDs7hba

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