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As we creep into May in the midst of this pandemic, it’s hard not to at least appreciate the strides that have been made in understanding and treating mental health. In order to fully understand how far we have come in destigmatizing and treating mental health, we can look to the story of James R. Robblett, a patient at an “insane asylum” during the 1930s. Obviously, this terminology is no longer used, but this is how it was referred to during this time period.
During his stay, he wrote a letter explaining what had led him to be committed. He wrote, “I was in a hopeless, discouraged state of mind. It was a temporary insanity, I suppose, brought on by several factors. I had been working too hard, doing brain work and not getting sufficient exercise. I had lived in a small room, cramped and low-ceilinged. I imagine I had a case of claustrophobia, the maddening feeling of being walled in on all sides, to help the breakdown along. If I could have left town for a week or so I might have recovered, but I was in an intensely nervous condition and my relatives and friends didn’t know how to help me much.”
From a modern- day perspective, it sounds like Mr. Robblett was suffering from anxiety, exhaustion, and depression. Because there was really no such thing as “therapy” or “counseling”, there was nowhere else for Mr. Robblett to go and get help. Unfortunately, the standard for treating mental health during this time period was much harsher and often, unnecessarily cruel. Those who went to “asylums” didn’t always make it out. They were left for years, or even permanently, because those on the outside were ashamed of their loved one’s “condition.” The negative stigma that was attached to those who had mental health problems was so strong that many people never even made it to the insane asylum. They suffered in silence, stuffing their feelings deep within, and trudged about their day to day life.
Fast forward 90 years. We can breathe a sigh of relief and know that feeling overwhelmed nowadays doesn’t necessitate a trip to the “asylum.” There are so many treatments available to those suffering from anxiety and depression, as well as more serious conditions like Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia. Though there is still a stigma concerning mental health issues, it is not nearly as difficult to talk about nowadays as it was back then. Books, movies, and news articles are written on the subject every day, and we continue to learn more about the subject while also improving treatment methods and expanding access to them.
So how can we fully appreciate mental health awareness month given our knowledge of how far it has come? Here are three ways to celebrate mental health awareness month as we move forward into a new age of treating and preventing mental illness.
1.Know that mental health issues are common. Many of us who struggle with anxiety and depression continue to suffer in silence because we believe, against all evidence, that we are the only ones who feel this way. There is nothing that is further than the truth. Approximately 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder right now. The stresses of modern life, coupled with the pressures put on us by ourselves and others, can lead many of us to have chronic fear. Even those who suffer from more serious and rare conditions can rest assured in the fact that there are millions out there struggling as well. Everyone struggles with mental illness at least once in their lifetime, whether it be severe anxiety or bipolar disorder. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You are not alone.
2. Our options for treatment have improved greatly. We don’t know everything about mental illness, but we know a lot more now than we did back during Mr. Robblett’s time period. We understand the different chemicals in the brain and how a lack of certain chemicals can contribute to a mental health condition. We also know that environmental factors, our upbringing, and out genetics play a huge role in determining and treating our mental health problems. We have counseling centers, hospitals, group therapy, and medications that are being tweaked and improved on a yearly basis. These are not “guesses” or experimental most of the time; there is actual scientific evidence to back many of these treatments up. Psychology has become a science in recent decades, and in this change comes great improvements in our treatment options.
3. The stigma of mental illness is much better now than it used to be. A previously mentioned, having a mental health condition is not the death sentence or embarrassment that it used to be 60 years ago. Mental health issues have become normalized and spoken about widely, and certain conditions that were considered “taboo” are no longer so. For example, postpartum depression was never spoken about 60 years ago, but today it is a common problem that all doctors screen for. There is nothing to be afraid of if you feel as though you are suffering from mental health problems. A simple meeting with your doctor can lead you to see the vast resources at your disposal for treating yourself.
As we celebrate mental health awareness month during one of the most challenging times of our lives in this pandemic, we can at least recognize how far society has come in treating mental health conditions. We can rest assured that although mental health awareness has a long way to go, we have made enormous strides in the 21st century. Just think, there is a whole month named after it!