I'm going to start by saying I know. I know that it's not as straightforward as mental health being the same as physical health, it's a little more complex than that but hear me out. I think there's a dialogue worth having or a train of thought worth exploring by comparing how we approach physical health and how we approach mental health. If it only helps us re-frame things.
I recently delivered a talk on mental health and even during the planning stages, hit a stumbling block. Someone queried whether, we as educators (me as a 'lay person') should be talking about mental health when it's not our (my) profession. At first I doubted myself and had a huge moment of what felt like impostor syndrome. What was I thinking? Who did I think I was? Then I started planning and remembered I have a lot to say on the subject. I do know my stuff (and my limitations). But it got me thinking. That would never happen in the same way with physical health. If a teacher was delivering a talk on personal hygiene or sexual health, we wouldn't bat an eyelid. But I think the issue here is more toxic than roles and responsibilities being questioned. Are we saying the only people who can talk about mental health are psychologists and counsellors? No wonder our CAMHS and NHS mental health provision is in such a state. Surely we can all be part of the discussion. We don't have to be professionals to make a positive impact on the mental health of those around us.
In an emergency, we wouldn't turn away the help of a first-aider because they weren't a surgeon. And in balance we wouldn't expect a first-aider to be conducting brain surgery. There are well understood and accepted layers to the way in which we approach physical health. Why isn't it so for our mental health too?
If you or your child are unwell, you make a judgement call about the level of treatment you or they need. It happens without thinking about it. Maybe it's some soup on the sofa with a blanket and a cheesy film, maybe it's a trip to the GP next week, maybe it's a visit to A&E. It could, and should be this way with our mental health.
It would be ludicrous to assume a person will go through life without ever experiencing a cough, cold, broken bone or some sort of fluctuation to their physical health. If we looked at mental health this way perhaps we'd see things differently. The assumption is arguably, that most will never experience mental ill health but as we know, 1 in 4 will have a diagnosable mental health condition. Is it not safe to assume then, that the other 3 will also experience fluctuations in their mental health which don't amount to a disorder?
I suppose it all boils down to these three points.
1. There is a difference between mental health and mental ill health.
2. We all have mental health.
3. Our mental health will fluctuate (like our physical health).