When I was a kid, I used to draw a lot, and I loved creating my own superheroes. My imagination would always go wild conjuring up an origin story, describing their superpowers and abilities. In a 10-year-old’s mind (OK even in a 40+ mind), these heroes were the coolest. However, while thinking up these great powers, I also needed to think of what counteracts these powers. Something that prevents these heroes from doing their jobs. It’s the law of the superhero world. Superman had his kryptonite, Hulk had his rage, and what’s Thor without his hammer, really? What prevented them from using their powers affected themin different ways. Some could not focus on their enemies or the innocent bystanders they were trying to save. Some were unable to take action, doing the things that they are there to do. Overall, these distractors (or however you name it) would suck the energy right out of them.
Mental illness is very similar to the barriers these superheroes have. Mental health is a state of well-being and it is something we all experience. With our physical health, there are times where we need to take care of our bodies. We get sick with the cold or flu, we get diagnosed with a disease, we break a bone or lose partial vision. If any of these occur, there is no problem seeking help from a professional. Like physical health, we also need to take care of our mental health. We often feel stressed, anxious and worried. We have trouble sleeping because of all the negative thoughts going on in our minds. We feel depressed or anxious. What is surprising is, if any of these mental health problems occur, people do not seem to seek help from a mental health professional.
Many people believe that they have the capability to work out their own mental health problems. While that may be true for some issues, mental health can be just as serious as physical health. If you have a heart condition, are you going to try and deal with that on your own? Without support or treatment, mental health can only get worse and despite what you may have heard, mental health treatment is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength.
I would like to share an experiment that I learned from my Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) course. I want you to sit and focus on the wall in front of you. While staring at that wall, I want you to imagine all the good things in your life, the things that make your life meaningful. I also want you to imagine all the problems you have to deal with; just like those superheroes, there’s always villains that need tending to. Also, let’s imagine all those tasks that you have to do on a regular basis. OK, so you have those three groups of images. Now take a piece of paper and hold it up in front of you. That paper represents all the mental health problems e.g. stress, worry, anxiety, depression, etc. Now take that paper and hold it out as far as you can. Keep pushing it out until you can’t anymore. Notice what that paper is doing to you. That piece of paper is preventing you from enjoying the things that are meaningful in your life. You’re at your child’s soccer match and can only pay attention to a part of it because that paper is in the way. You are watching your favourite show and can’t follow what is going on. Those problems you have cannot be dealt with because that paper is causing fatigue, which also means they are being added as more weight to that paper. Finally, you cannot do those regular tasks like cook, clean, go to work because the paper is in the way. That one piece of paper is starting to affect your life and by seeking treatment, it can help teach strategies on what to do with that piece of paper.
Treatment of mental health depends on the type of issues you are experiencing. Mild mental illness can be treated through self-care, family and peer support, and/or a visit with a mental health professional (i.e. a psychiatrist or psychotherapist such as a psychologist, counsellor or a social worker). Visiting your family doctor is your first step to getting the proper support. The role of your family doctor is to ensure not only your physical health, but mental health as well. Your mental health can also affect you physically, and family doctors can also provide names of mental health providers or offer community resources. We may not have the strength like Superman, the agility like Spider-man or the ability to teleport like Dr. Strange. We also don’t have to battle all those evil villains, but we do have our own superpowers, our own evil villains (in our minds) and our own duties. The last thing we want is to have that piece of paper distract us from our lives.