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5 Ways to Make Every Day a 'Mental Health Day'

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Today is World Mental Health Day, and as Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter timelines began filling with personal stories, inspiring quotes and tips for “living well,” I woke up feeling jaded.

I would never argue more people talking about mental health is a bad thing. But when you’re living with a mental illness or advocating for “mental health” every day — it can all feel like a lot of noise. Good noise, sure, especially for people who aren’t typically exposed to it, but noise all the same. For me, there’s something about this noise that makes me cynical, even apathetic. What can I add to this conversation? What is all of this for? I don’t like this about myself, but here we are. I wonder if other people feel the same.

I wanted to share with you some things I believe could make every day a mental health day. Not the kind of mental health day that means taking off work (although those mental health days rock, too), but the kind of mental health day where thinking about your mental health and reflecting on your personal needs is a regular practice — so “mental health day” is something we can celebrate every day.

Here are some things I thought of. Tell me what you think in the comments below. Happy World Mental Health Day, everyone.

1. Get vulnerable.

One reason World Mental Health Day exists is that we like getting permission to talk about our mental health. Who could blame us? Maybe you’ve been accused of “attention seeking” after posting about your depression online, or maybe you’re too nervous to disclose your bipolar diagnosis to your co-workers. Days like World Mental Health Day, and other awareness days, give us an “excuse” to express how we’re doing and could be the push people need to open up about their mental illness diagnosis.

But we don’t need to wait for an awareness day or a campaign to get real about how we’re doing. You don’t have to be someone who blogs or posts personal musings on Facebook to bring more authenticity and vulnerability to your life. It starts with identifying one or two people you can reach out to when you’re “not OK,” and it starts with seeing vulnerability as an inevitable part of life, not a flaw. As the vulnerability goddess Brené Brown wrote:

Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness or not, normalizing not being OK and embracing our vulnerability will help the mental health of everyone. None of us should feel like we have to pretend.

2. Don’t be ashamed of who you are.

For people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses, there are often two levels of struggle. The first is more personal: How your mental illness affects what you want to achieve and influences your overall happiness. This is what we talk about when we urge people to seek mental health treatment, whatever that means for them.

The second level of struggle involves shame — not because your diagnosis or “mental health problems” are affecting your personal happiness but because they affect your ability to fit in to the world, because they make you different, and because we’re often taught to be believe “different” needs to be fixed. This is where I would challenge everyone on a daily basis to re-frame this struggle. The truth is, being diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Whether you identify as being sick or feel like your brain just works differently, please fight for your happiness, but don’t be ashamed of your struggles. The point of recovery is not to make you normal (as it’s been said, what is normal, anyway?) but to make you comfortable in your mind, on your terms.

3. Respect your needs.

If you’re like me and want to be needless, you’ve probably figured out by now that doesn’t really work. Your needs will arise daily, unpredictably, and fighting them won’t do you good in the long run. So instead, respect them. Work with them. Understand that good mental health doesn’t mean being satisfied or happy all the time and that one of the best things you can do every day is ask yourself, “What do I need?” If that means staying in bed all day because depression is weighing you down, that’s OK. If that means skipping that party tonight because your social anxiety is off the charts, that’s OK. If that means challenging yourself to go to a party you want to attend because your therapist taught you some great coping strategies you’re excited to try out, do that too! Your needs will be fluid, and they will change, and that’s OK.

4. Reject the pressure to be perfect.

When we talk about mental health, we often talk about it like it’s something to be achieved or even perfected. But treating mental health like a singular aim or goal often can oversimplify, well, life — which we know is never simple. Don’t forget your daily mental health goal is not to be in a perfect mood, and replace the word “perfection” with words like “grace,” “mindfulness,” “vibrancy” and “fulfillment.” No one mental health treatment plan or one routine will give you a perfect day, but it can get you closer to appreciating your life, and that’s what’s worth fighting for.

If perfect mental health is your goal, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

5. Go beyond “awareness” — and get specific.

What fundamentally bothers me about awareness weeks and days is that throughout all the noise, it can be hard to get specific. What we need to do right now is get specific.

If breaking the stigma and telling your story is what you’re passionate about, don’t stop, but think beyond that — what specific barriers made it hard for you to seek mental health support? If once you entered the mental health system, it didn’t help you, tell us why. Scream it from a mountaintop. We need to use the power we harness on days like today to talk about what happens after you seek mental health care, and this means discrimination, poor treatment, abuse disguised as treatment and more. We could talk all day about wellness tips, but being able to implement some of the things I suggested above is not a matter of “just doing it” — especially when someone is not getting the basic support they need and deserve. We need to think about how we support people and improve the mental health system, today and every day.

Originally published: October 10, 2017
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