We will do anything to beautify the physical spaces in which we live. We’ll clean out closets, get rid of clutter, and wash our windows. We will exchange the old for the new and refreshing. We will do all of this and not even give it another thought.
But our minds, the only spaces we really can’t leave, often get less love and care, less priority than our physical spaces. Our minds are hidden, the diseases that plague many of them are invisible, and as such our mental health is often not on our priority lists.
As the snow melts and we all think about how to make the most of our longer, sunnier days, I have something to add to our list of spring projects: improving our mental health.
To highlight the urgent need to prioritize our mental health, a statistic:
A key finding from the 2019 Mental Health America report states that more than half of US adults with mental illness go untreated. This adds up to more than twenty-seven million people who are not being cared for for their mental struggles, and it does not include adolescents, nor does it reflect the scourge of hardship brought on by the pandemic.
Perhaps part of the discrepancy between the sick and the professionally treated is the nomenclature. Admitting to having anxiety or depression is one thing, but adopting the terminology “mental illness” somehow seems more prescriptive, as if by acknowledging that you have a mental illness, you are submitting to something that you have historically been able to hide. It seems to me that this is part of the reason why a staggering twenty-seven million adults do not receive treatment; because the words we use to talk about mental illness turn off those who are already reluctant to admit that they are having a hard time.
But we have to admit this. We need to treat our minds like we treat our homes and make sure they are clean and resilient, set up to keep us safe. And one of the best ways to do it is with professional help.
To illustrate the power of professional help, a story:
My daughter was ten months old. Her tiny body was as scorching as the hot stones a masseuse gently places along your spine. Her lethargy after her nap was supercharged by a fever. I put her on my bed to examine her and she started convulsing. My baby was having a seizure and I thought she was going to die. They were the longest two minutes of my life.
As soon as the paramedics arrived and strapped her into the ambulance, I learned that she was most likely having a fever-induced seizure, something the ER doctor told me was far more destructive to a witness’s psyche than to himself. the girl’s body. Even so, the trauma of the experience lingers. This was four years ago.
A couple of months after the seizures (she had another eleven days later), I went to visit my midwife and told her of the terror I experienced during the episodes. She suggested that she see a therapist and she rushed me to see me right away.
I will deviate here to say that everyone should be so lucky to have this type of medical intervention. If I hadn’t been pushed to a therapist, I may not have sought one until my anxiety became even more crippling. But then I met with a therapist, and I still meet with her every other week. I still talk about the seizures. I just mentioned them this week. Those seizures, which totaled a mere five minutes of my life, gripped me so mercilessly that I still ache from the experiences. When my children are sick, when a pandemic hits the planet, my anxiety arises.
But I’m doing well, and I know it’s because I prioritize my mental health. That is, this is due to therapy.
Therapy requires some of our most precious finite resources: time and money. It makes sense to me why some people object. However, I would say that our mental health is an equally important resource and worthy of all our other resources. Fortunately, the rise of teletherapy platforms has helped eliminate inaccessibility by making therapy more lifestyle-friendly, requiring less time and often less money than traditional therapy.
Forbes looked at different online therapy platforms, factoring in cost, ease, and other features, in this roundup, if teletherapy is something you’re interested in.
Cleaning up our mental health is about more than just adding therapy to our list of spring projects. It also means giving ourselves breaks when we need them, exercising regularly, and taking time to nurture our relationships. Mostly, it means getting our mental health to the top of our priority lists.
We are all better, each one of us, when we take care of our mental health.
We are all better, each one of us, when we take care of our mental health. I’m not a statistician, but I would imagine that very often when people need therapy, they need a push from a third party before going through with it. Sometimes you just need a stranger to say, Go take care of your mental health. I hope I can be that outside party for you.
So, to send the message home, a heads up:
Please go take care of your mind. Add it to your list. Treat it like your home. Because of course it is.
Kolina Cicero is in love with stories: reading them, writing them, getting lost in them. Other things she loves are yoga, traveling, and taking cooking, Italian, and writing classes. The first book of hers for children of hers, Rosie and the hobby farmIt was published in July 2020.