Published: Granite Bay Gazette Vol. 19, Issue 3. Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.
Reason for publication: When I was responsible for writing the column for A1, I decided to use the opportunity to discuss a subject which doesn’t often get talked about. I wrote about mental health, inspired by my Rabbi to do so, and I received very positive reviews.
On Yom Kippur – a Jewish observance that falls directly after the welcoming of the new year in which we reflect upon our past wrongdoings in order to better ourselves – my Rabbi gave a sermon about how and why we don’t talk about mental health.
He asked everyone in the room to stand if they or someone they knew had cancer – about half of the room stood. He then asked the audience to stand if they or someone they knew closely had battled with a mental disorder – only about twenty people stood. In the US there are about the same number of people living with cancer as there are battling mental disorder, meaning there were certainly more people in our Temple affected by them that remained seated.
There are a few reasons to explain why people feel more comfortable talking about a physical life-threatening illness for which the effects can be visible, versus a mental disorder which can also be life-threatening, but in which the effects can’t usually be seen.
One line from the sermon that stuck with me talked about our society’s obsession and love of happiness – leaving little to no room to talk about sadness and other emotions that can make us uncomfortable or put us in a bad mood.
Pixar’s newest film “Inside Out” reminded children that happiness is good, but sadness, joy, fear and anger aren’t ‘bad’ emotions. This is a great message, but I think it’s somewhat sad we have to remind ourselves that constant happiness isn’t healthy and other feelings are also OK.
Everyday we get constant stimulation – from our school, peers, social media and family – and most of it remains positive. But to create a more accepting environment in which those affected by mental disorders can talk about the issues that face them everyday, we have to open our conversation to include topics that aren’t always lighthearted.
Mental disorders should not be discussed only in rooms with closed doors, in hushed whispers or in health classes when parental permission is granted. It affects millions of people each and every day, and should be talked about like such – openly, and without criticism towards those that live with them. After all, you would never tell a cancer survivor to get over their disorder, minimize their problems or talk about their struggles as trivial.
So why have mental disorders become such a taboo topic to talk about? It may be because we are sensitive to the subject, especially if directly affected by it, but perhaps it mostly has to do with our dislike of talking about things that make us uncomfortable.
In my everyday conversations, I rarely discuss topics that are sad. Sad things don’t make us feel good. But maybe we’re doing ourselves a huge discourtesy by keeping mum.
What if someone who has struggled with depression never heard it discussed, someone with a personality disorder thought they were alone or someone with anxiety thought themselves abnormal because of their condition – perhaps only worsening their struggle.
The fastest way to deal with a problem is to ignore it. But it’s horribly detrimental to normalize a problem or even tell someone it’s OK to deal with issues of any kind by ignoring them.
Psychologists tell us that ignoring problems or believing they don’t exist is denial, which can’t actually solve anything. Talking about our emotions and our feelings can only be constructive.
It’s time we reevaluate how we treat those with mental disorders, and how we talk about mental disorders. Feel free to talk about the subject so as to educate others. Talk openly about it to make those struggling or affected feel less criticized, isolated or forgotten. Mental disorders are prevalent, and it’s time we talk give them the attention they deserve.