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  • Writer's pictureFiona Feeley

Mental health musings

Something doesn’t add up. We have a wellness industry that is saturated with services geared toward tackling mental health issues and yet incidence of depression, anxiety, burnout and suicide continue to soar. So, what’s going wrong? Well where do I start without sounding like a cynical wagon? I feel like the emphasis and light being shone on mental health issues is completely selective and very much a double-edged sword. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s essential that awareness is created; services and resources updated and improved, and the shame associated with struggles dissolved. It’s also imperative that preventative measures are put in place both in educational and corporate capacities. However as with anything in life, as soon as there is a sniff of potential exploitation from a monetary perspective, there’s a line of people willing to get on board.

The epidemic that is mental illness has seen a massive demand for a one-size fits all solution from a corporate perspective and as with any social and corporate pressure, capitalism has taken precedence. The growing popularity of positive psychology and fitness that has immerged has been jumped upon due to their ease of application and marketability. They became the fundaments of wellness programs and were the catalyst for the massively lucrative industry that is corporate wellness to immerge. Now I’m not disputing positive psychology/fitness or the benefits some of their practices can contribute to positive mental health and stress reduction. However, despite the number of companies ploughing money into mindfulness and yoga; workplace burnout, absenteeism and health insurance costs due to mental health issues are rising daily. The highly individualistic component of mental health is being disregarded. In my opinion, positive psychology activities and fitness programs are progressions that serve to maintain mental fitness. To safeguard against mental health problems, a foundation needs to be first put in place. This foundation needs to consist of resilience, acceptance and tolerance skills. The implementation of these foundations needs to consider the individual. To assume that any two people have the same needs on such a personal level is absurd. People come from different backgrounds, have different personalities, ways of relating, coping mechanisms, triggers, conflict/communication styles, needs and characteristics. Individual differences need to be considered, to ensure a person’s mental fitness plan is specific to their strengths and weaknesses. The next step is creating a workplace community that supports mental wellbeing; where meaningful sharing, connection, vulnerability, risk, ownership and responsibility are encouraged. People thrive on recognition, unity and feeling fulfilled. Only once this foundation is developed, can yoga and nutrition be helpful in maintaining an awareness of the benefits of physical wellbeing.

The popularity of the trending positivity and self-care movement has grown to epic proportions and the fitness industry has encroached on this, resulting in a deluded message. Mental health has become synonymous with physical fitness and the upshot is a competition to see who can be seen as the most positive with the biggest glutes. Insta-huns promoting self-care based entirely on aesthetic results, life coaches selling positivity affirmations and every Tom, Dick and Harry talking about vulnerability which seems to only equate to exposure of ‘acceptable’ mental illness. It’s like a select few illnesses are deemed acceptable…people love to hear a good old anxiety anecdote but mention personality disorders or drug abuse and they run a mile. Now clearly mental health issues fluctuate on severity, symptoms and manifestation. I’m not for one second suggesting that any particular form of mental health issue is any less deserving of complete empathy and recognition than the next. However, depression and anxiety are now almost an accessory item, a claim to fame whereas the more (perceived) sordid disorders are tainted with shame. As with the portrayal of the recovery process. It’s no longer enough to manage to get out of bed each day, now you need to run a marathon and scale Everest. The depiction often shows recovery as this glamourous experience as opposed to being the ongoing journey I experienced; one that’s painful albeit beautiful and consists of one step forward, ten steps back.

Last but by the very means least is the medical industry and overall resources available. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had sufficient insight, determination and resourcefulness to continue to seek, research and explore avenues to help myself. I’ve also had some amazing therapists. However, the most valuable therapy I’ve experienced is in connecting with and helping others who have walked the same journey. People struggling with mental health issues need what so many GPs don’t have, due to the massive demand and constraints being placed on them. Time, patience, consistency and insightful empathy are greatly lacking. They also need to be given their identity back, to find purpose again and too often these needs are overlooked in favour of meds. Too many people are slipping through the net. The integration of pop psychology into everyday discourse means mental health terminology is also bandied about carelessly and consequently treatment is not always reserved for those in need. People throwing about labels like ocd, depression, narcissism and anxiety about themselves, about exes or employers. A certain level of grief, anxiety, adversity and conflict are part and parcel of every day life. However, the message of all-encompassing positivity and light that’s being endorsed means people are now less tolerant. Not every mood change warrants Lexapro. Ultimately the only one that benefits here are the pharmaceutical companies.

Reading back over this, it would appear that yes, I’m very much the cynical wagon. So much of my opinion is personally based and I always stand to be corrected, however the more individuals I express my thoughts with, the more I am hearing concurrence. I’m not saying the approach is all wrong and without a doubt, the increased level of awareness is incredible. It’s like we’re building a house without the wiring or plumbing but with beautiful interior design. We need to remove the ego, remove the glamour and go back to basics; teaching from the bottom up with integrity and simplicity. Embracing our imperfections, our weaknesses and meeting all with compassion. Evolving to a conscious living of ownership, altruism and honesty. Acknowledging the complex ambivalence of our emotions and learning ways of living harmoniously with them. Only by accepting where we are, with all our faults and failings, can we begin to move towards greater things.

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