I believe that the most important word in the phrase “mental health” is “health.” There was a time when people felt a stigma associated with seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. Admittedly, until recent years, mental health was not always portrayed in a positive light in the media or in our communities. If someone had not experienced positive interactions with a mental health provider either directly or through family members, then there may have been a reluctance to try the unknown.
The concept of health is really a mind and body comprehensive approach. The reality is that our mind is a part of our body, and impacts our physical and emotional well being. Think about the concept of stress. Let’s take a tangible object like a paper towel. Stretch it out and keep pulling. The stress from pulling it, even gently, will begin to tear the paper towel. Add something else from the environment such as water to the paper towel and it will fall apart more quickly. Add something heavy on top of it, and we are certain to see it fall apart.
Now, let’s take the physical body. Add some stress. Pull at it with the loss of a loved one, sudden illness or injury, change of life, coping with chronic illness, work-related stress, financial stress, relationship stress, time management of life with many responsibilities, etc….. During those times, we often hear of people experiencing sore shoulders, headaches, stomach aches and digestive problems, weight gain or loss, increased blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. What came first? Truthfully, it could be either. Sometimes physical problems contribute to emotional distress and sometimes the emotional distress can lead to physical problems.
Certainly, there are a variety of avenues of support for well-being, to include self-help books, community support groups, exercise, healthy diet, and social activities to name a few.
Why see a mental health professional? If you are struggling with managing symptoms and overall health, the question really is, why not? Regardless of which came first, quality, competent mental health treatment may alleviate or reduce both psychological and physical symptoms. A mental health provider can provide skills, support, and collaboration with your medical or psychiatric health care provider to provide a comprehensive approach to your overall health and well-being.
Written by Michelle Zalenski, PsyD