Mental health Mixed Messages

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 2-03-2022

Have you ever scrolled through a social media platform and read a quote about mental health that not only caused confusion and mixed messages, but also an endless series of arguments between people in the comment threads? Mental health is NOW a hot topic. Ironically, for the longest period of time, it wasn’t a topic at all due to lack of information and stigma. Now that it is hot topic, there are many different views on what it means to be ‘mentally ill’, how to ‘heal’, how to ‘grieve’, how to work toward sobriety, how to address your body as well as your relationship with food etc. There are not only therapists all over the country with many different specialties, but it seems social media has created a phenomenon of ‘mental health influencers’ and ‘life coach’ gurus who claim to be able to help people ‘turn their lives around’. There are also sporadic individuals that have figured out the perfect formula for their life and mental health, and therefore may try to shove that formula down other people’s throats with insistence and urgency, because… “It works!” For this blog, I am going to share some of these ‘mixed messages’, how they get perceived, and also my clinical/personal impressions on how to take these messages in a more practical way.

Body Positivity

The Common expressions:       “Be yourself”         “Love yourself”       “Your body, your choice”   “Size isn’t everything”

The Common arguments:      “Stop promoting obesity”    “Being fat is nothing to be proud of”    

The Clinical perspective:  Admittedly, I have a food addiction and an eating disorder, so I am able to offer a deeper perspective here. The body positivity movement was NOT created to promote or encourage obesity, but rather to reduce the shame of those that suffer from eating disorders. It is known clinically that when we reduce shame, sufferers are less likely to engage in restricting and binge cycles and get back to what we call ‘regular eating’. This is safer! Eating disorders are in large part, a societally induced mental illness. It’s a phenomenon created by a world of seeing ads, pictures, and social profiles with exaggerated and unrealistic bodies faces. And then, in turn, following strict regiments to look like the illusions we see, and pressuring our peers and family to do the same. So in turn, we are reversing this mistake we made for decades, and pushing out NEW visuals and models that are more realistic and healthy for our youth.

Managing Depression

The Common expressions:     “Exercise”       “Diet”       “Get sunlight”     “There are people that have it worse than you”

The Common arguments:      “I’m drained no matter what I do”        “What’s the point?”       “Nothing works”           “Nothing will help”

The Clinical perspective:     I will always say, without a doubt, depression is a serious killer. Most people could not imagine, but it is deceivingly one of the hardest things someone can suffer through on a daily basis. And most depression sufferers could only dream that the solution was as simple as diet, exercise, sunlight and gratitude. Don’t get me wrong, the above list will certainly give temporarily relief/ endorphins, but it will not permanently take away that chemical imbalance that causes major/ chronic depression. Hence, why do depression sufferers argue with people spewing health advice at them all day? Because they have literally tried it all, to the point of exhausting their already exhausted brains and bodies, and…. the depression is still there. Therapy would be more practical advice, as well as stressing the importance of a healthy and understanding support system.  After all, it is a long and tedious journey that is heavily misunderstood.

Don’t Do Drugs

The Common expressions:      “Quit now!”       “Stay sober”      “Think of your family/ kids”       “This will lead to worse drugs”

The Common arguments:     “Freedom of choice”     “I’m going to die anyways”     “I cannot function unless I take this” 

The Clinical perspective: Could this get any more confusing? First of all, there are drugs that are legal, drugs that are illegal, and drugs that are prescribed and in a major gray area of legal/ or illegal depending on if a doctor deemed it “okay for you”.  It’s no wonder there is so much conflicting information regarding self-medicating, substance abuse, and addiction. My advice? Stop assuming there is a one size fit’s all when it comes to substances, sobriety and/ or harm reduction techniques. Drug’s, or better yet, “medicating” is all about the ‘cost-benefit analyses’. Meaning, is what I’m getting from this substance worth it? Do the benefits outweigh the cost? (AKA symptoms) Guess what? This is a question that can only honestly be answered by the individual themselves. The main reason there are so many fear tactics shoved down our throats when it comes to substances is due to lack of education and a fear of the unknown.

Marital Concerns

The Common expressions:     “Marriage should be forever, no matter what”        “They will be happier once they tie the knot”       “You need to marry and settle down”

The Common arguments:    “It’s not worth fighting for if it’s abusive”     “It’s outdated”   

“I don’t need to sign a paper to prove my commitment”

The Clinical perspective:    The tradition of marriage isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the outlook on it has shifted dramatically. This has caused a clash between what we normally call ‘old fashioned’ values and ‘modern values’. In this modern age, there has been role and identity confusion with all sexes/ genders regarding what ‘their place is’ in marriage. Also, the question of ‘is this even a tradition I want to partake in?’ Much like my perspective with substances, there is no “one size fits all” with marriage and marital problems. Two or more people may come together and create a “Verbal” contract of what they want/ expect in their relationship(s). This contract may or may not fit the ‘social norm.’ This contract may be rewritten, or torn up completely, or it may become legal and written in ‘stone’. Then, it may also get torn up and shredded still. How do we know when it’s beneficial? Or the right fit? We don’t, not in the long run. What’s best is that everyone strive for happiness and learn to pick something that works for their unique and personal wants/ needs. Relationship’s, break ups, marriages and divorces are often times trial and error over the course of time.

Stoicism vs Emotions

The Common expressions:   “Logic over emotion always!”       “Emotions aren’t helpful”       “You have to practice control over your mind”   

The Common arguments:      “Not processing emotions is harmful”         “You’re being dismissive”          “That’s insensitive and not helpful”

The Clinical perspective:      The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Humans have brains that are capable of logical thinking as well as experiencing emotions. There is a time and place for both. Emotions tell us crucial things, that if we ignore, will fall wayside and cause us to suffer more. Then, logic is helpful for being calculated, and if we never use this part of our brains, we may find ourselves stagnant.  If someone happens to be a “Stoic” that is under the impression it means: ‘never show emotion’ and ‘never feel emotion’, they were terribly misled. There will be a higher risk of burnout and heavy mental health symptoms down the road due to emotional suppression. If someone allows their emotions to cause behaviors that overtake their lives and lead to serious consequences, they need help with emotional regulation. They should also reflect on whether or not their external environment is a causal factor as well. We do not want to ruminate and dwell forever, but we also do not want to avoid and live in denial. The balance lies somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

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