Mental Health Month: Changing the Way We Look at Mental Health

38155102_mMay is Mental Health Month, and this year Mental Health America is focusing on the theme “B4Stage4”. The idea behind the title is that we try to catch serious health conditions, such as cancer, in the early stages when treatment is easier and more likely to be successful, and we should do the same with mental illness. To make that approach common place, we have to change the way we think about mental health, and we have to get past the stigma.

A Different View

When we see mental health conditions in the same light as other health conditions, it is much easier to see a treatment path and a light at the end of the tunnel. It is also easier to understand why early detection and treatment are so important. As any health condition progresses, it causes more damage and becomes more difficult to treat and get under control or reverse.

Mental health conditions are no different.

And just like other health conditions, there are many risk factors that can contribute to the development of mental illness. Mental health is no more a measure of a person’s character than physical health. Telling someone they should just “buck up” and not have depression is like telling them should just “buck up” and not have cancer. Risk factors for mental health conditions include:

  • Genetics
  • Biology
  • Environment
  • Lifestyle

Biological factors include trauma to the brain, such as concussion. We are just beginning to understand both the short and long-term impact of concussion on mental health, and what we are discovering is that consequences can be far more severe than previously thought.

When it comes to environment, the experiences we have as children shape how our brains develop. It is not a simple matter of how your parents and family may have shaped your thinking. Both positive and negative experiences that occur as the brain is developing actually change the structure of the brain. Some of those structural changes can increase your likelihood of developing mental illness.

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