Monday, September 13, 2010

Time for a Checkup: Lack of Illness vs. Health

I recently spoke with a reporter from a Boston community newspaper who is planning an article spotlighting the concept of a “mental health checkup.” I think that this is a great idea, and something that is very much needed. Given that September is a time for new beginnings with many people going back to school and work, what better time than now to do a mental health checkup.
Many people go through their entire lives never encountering a mental health professional. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are mentally healthy, for the absence of illness does not necessarily equal health. Unfortunately, in our society we place a lot of emphasis on treating illness and much less on what it takes to stay healthy.

What is mental health? You can probably find many different definitions, but I would like to suggest one characteristic which I think is critical to the foundation of good mental health: knowing yourself, ie. being self-aware. I often tell my patients with depression and anxiety that they are in a position to be some of the most mentally healthy people around, because their illness has forced them to grapple with unhealthy patterns and learn new skills to cope with the stresses of everyday life. And in the process, they have come to know themselves much better. One of my professional goals is to bring the same skills that we as psychiatrists use in the office to people who would never come through our doors because they are not identified as being "mentally ill." They may be functioning and getting by, however, they are missing out on living life at the level of their "best self."

Over the next several days, I will post about important topics to consider as you do your own mental health checkup.

1 comment:

  1. I like your piece and agree that there should be more emphasis on mental wellness. When I called up the school clinic, they said the psychiatrists were only available for 1/2 hr medication maintenance appointments.


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