Changing Perspectives on Mental Health: From Awareness to Acceptance | News, Sports, Jobs
As we move into new seasons, we are presented with opportunities for new perspectives. The change of perspective can sometimes be a challenge. Switching requires conscious work; You change perspective by thinking or doing something differently to change yourself, your situation, or others. To create a strong and resilient community, we must work together to change our perspectives to be inclusive and accepting. As we look back over the past decade, it’s safe to say that by embracing social media, sharing our authentic experiences, and normalizing that it’s brave to seek help, mental health awareness has increased. But awareness is simple; we can be aware of many beliefs, behaviors, and concepts even when we don’t agree. We are aware of the messages surrounding mental health when we scroll media platforms, and we are aware when we gather with friends and family. But do we accept the nuances surrounding mental health and well-being?
First, we recognize that awareness is simply recognizing that someone has a challenge; We are aware of the different types of challenges and experiences people have. Acceptance means telling them they are not alone, motivating them to accept help and/or working with them. Acceptance comes from a place of understanding and action. We are moving from mental health knowledge to participation in the acceptance movement. The shift in perspective allows you to go beyond your normal point of view to discover new ways of thinking and understanding to make our community safer and healthier for those experiencing challenges.
Vincent Ryan, in her article “Why is acceptance important to our mental health?” speaks beautifully of acceptance by saying;
“One reason acceptance can be so important is that if we don’t accept it, it’s very hard to do something constructive. A certain level of acceptance can be an important prerequisite for real commitment and change. A second reason why acceptance is the necessary change is that the individual begins to make peace with something that is painful and difficult to bear, something that is a real loss for us. Life is full of big and small losses. Another reason acceptance is important to the mental health movement is that it can be a gateway to compassion for self and for others. This can often be very important for healing and progression. As humans, as part of our lives, as part of our human makeup, we inevitably face all kinds of painful emotions. And sometimes we inherit beliefs that we shouldn’t have some of those emotions — that it’s not safe or it’s shameful or we’re somehow weak or bad or unlovable.”
When we accept that we ourselves, children, neighbors, colleagues, friends and family can have these emotions, challenges and experiences, we pave the way for positive healing and acceptance that this is normal and expected. We often hear people respond to the challenges of the human experience with toxic positivity; You know, the over-generalization of happy statements. Well, as humans, we experience a range of emotions in a single day. When someone minimizes emotions, we begin to feel like they are being devalued. Responses and stigma that deny feelings can negatively impact help-seeking behavior.
Mental health problems can arise at any time in life. While the pandemic has posed greater challenges for many of us, the mental well-being of young people in our community and around the world has been severely impacted. These challenges were there long before the pandemic, but now more than ever we need to accept how young people are feeling and affirm that these difficult emotions are normal. We can no longer romanticize this “Pull yourself up by your boots” Mentality; the attitude that we must take responsibility for everything that happens to us. The effects of the pandemic prove that our lives can change drastically and abruptly through no fault of our own. As a community, we must ensure that every child has access to quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care. We must support the mental health of children and young people in educational, community and childcare settings. We must address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health in young people, families and caregivers. Now more than ever, we need to break down the stigma surrounding youth mental health and build a bridge to give young people the resources they deserve.
The Mental Health Program provided by the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene recognizes that stigma, outdated mentalities and toxic positivity are real concerns when we open up conversations about mental health and help seeking. We mitigate toxic positivity and emphasize acceptance by validating the challenges and emotions faced by our community members, we express authentic empathy, we share our lived experiences, and we provide practical resources related to professional help and self-care .
As I reflect on our own perspectives and recognize that acceptance takes work, I challenge you to think about mental health and your perceptions. I challenge you to be a bridge to help in someone’s life.
Christina Breen serves as a Social Emotional Learning and Training Specialist with the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene and the Chautauqua Tapestry Resilience Initiative and works with the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Chautauqua County. For more programming and training information, email [email protected] or visit preventuicidechq.com.