People don’t wait until they have a broken bone to see a doctor. If you had a chronic cough, you wouldn’t wait for debilitating pain before getting it checked out. But when it comes to mental health, it’s astonishing how quickly people dismiss their own needs. Most people demonstrate compassion toward those who struggle with mental illness — except themselves.
Mental health is an issue that few are willing to talk about, so the conversations that do happen are extremely influential. Efforts to normalize mental health at Tuesday’s Cirque De-Stress were one of the most important University of Minnesota-sponsored events of the year.
Cirque De-Stress is so successful because it seeks to include the entire University community in a dialogue about mental health. It’s a normal event that “normal” people go to. The event isn’t reserved for outliers in the population, and neither is mental illness. Cirque De-Stress and other mental health awareness events help us realize that nobody is really “normal.”
Cirque De-Stress is so powerful because it addresses the roots of stigmas against mental health issues. For too long, mental health care has been thought of as a “special” treatment. It’s considered to be a dire, last-call solution for those with severe illnesses.
The language surrounding mental health care indicates the stigmas that we unknowingly hold. People ominously refer to meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist as “getting help,” not “getting a checkup” like we would with a physical doctor.
This language creates invisible and unnecessary barriers around pursuing mental health care.
People still criticize those with severe mental illness, but this stigma is lessening with the younger generation. We’ve come a long way in recognizing and in supporting members of society who truly are mental health outliers. But the most pervasive stigma is that mental illness has to be severe in order to be worthy of treatment.
Mental health issues — severe, mild or in between — will affect almost everyone sooner or later, often during college years. Stress and change, two trademarks of college life, can lead to mental illness if they aren’t managed. These are issues that can be addressed in mental health treatment or with any of the stress-reducing strategies presented at Cirque De-Stress. In fact, 40 percent of college students seeking treatment suffer from only “mild mental health concerns.”
You don’t have to be on the brink of destruction to make an appointment at Boynton Health Service. Everyone deserves to feel calm, relaxed and happy. Mental health isn’t an Olympics of suffering: Everyone qualifies. That’s the most important message that Cirque De-Stress spreads.
Stigmas about our mental health encompass more than judging or criticizing those with chemical imbalances or clinically diagnosed disorders. The next horizon in mental health care is recognition of mental health’s broad and all-encompassing spectrum. Nearly all of us could seek out mental health care at some point in our lives, and we must be brave enough to recognize it.