The Spectrum of Wellness

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Family Wellness Alliance started with one universal believe - that how we feel mentally and emotionally is as important as how we feel physically.  Physical, emotional and mental health are inextricably intertwined.  So why do we tend to, even choose to, ignore our mental health and wellness?  Why do we hide the emotional pain we feel from our loved ones and even from ourselves?  Why are we more likely to go to a physician when we’ve had a cold that has lasted a month but not when we’re experiencing overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair for the same amount of time?

In many ways our culture has come a long way in embracing those who live with mental health conditions though we still have a long way to go.  Portrayals of people with mental health conditions in movies, television and books are still far from accurate depictions of what living day to day with a mental health condition is actually like.  Representations in the media tend to focus on mental illness to explain acts of violence or behavior considered odd or different rather than the talent and contributions made by those with mental health conditions.  For all our advancement as a society, we tend to still revel in the myths and disinformation that swirl around the phrase “mental illness.”

Take for example, the myth that people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are violent.  This is undeniably not at all the case.  In fact, people with such mental health conditions are more likely to be victims of violence and other types of crimes precisely because they are vulnerable and less likely to report when a crime has been committed against them.

What gets lost among these depictions and myths is that our mental health is a spectrum of wellness and illness and each of us moves up and down that spectrum at any time in our lives.  This is not unusual, nor should it be something we avoid or feel shame about.  And though there are many things we can do to take care of ourselves so that we stay toward the healthy end of the spectrum (like eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly), these behaviors take a focused, sustained effort to maintain. 

Journal writing is a good example of this type of effort.  We often encourage people to maintain a journal of behaviors while also noting their emotional and mental well-being during the same period.  After a fairly brief period of time, often just a month or two, it’s not difficult to identify those behaviors that impact our mental well-being negatively and those that improve it.  Keeping a journal for a month or two may take a great deal of sustained effort but the information it yields can be invaluable to learning how to maintain your mental health and wellness.