In case you’ve missed it, mental health discussions are finally getting some place in our society. The more we normalize these discussions, the closer to acceptance we move. We need to push through just talking about “self-care” and mental health awareness and commit to the actions involved in being inclusive and accepting. Mental health is an issue for everyone, but the access to resources and community acceptance differ. In true form, I’m going to criticize where we’re at on these things and their role in mental health discussions.
While I think we’re making positive progress in ending the stigma surrounding mental health, we have yet to achieve our full potential of creating a space where anyone can speak as openly about mental health as they would about a broken arm. While the shows, movies, music, and other content we’re consuming involve celebrities and athletes discussing mental health in the spotlight, we need to talk about some ripple effects.
Kevin Love opened up about his mental health struggles, specifically about his struggle with panic attacks which may not seem important. However, for a high profile athlete to open up about mental health causes ripple effects on other athletes and the kids who look up to them.
He wrote about how mental health concerns aren’t only for certain people; issues of mental health don’t discriminate based based on whether or not you’re an athlete. As long as we’re all going through life, mental health and wellness will be just as important as physical health and wellness.
There is no shame in seeking help. Whether you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, whatever it is, there are people who are overjoyed to help you and see you succeed. Normalizing discussions and action steps helps us move forward as a society, especially when those who have social power encourage that movement.
Other athletes have since written about their struggles and how the high pressure can be daunting. Say what you will about professional athletes, but they’re human too and of course they feel a broad range of emotions, especially as life happens. We can treat athletes and entertainers as consumable products without regard to how they process all their experiences internally and say nothing. OR, we can appreciate what they do and be understanding of what they may be going through and maybe not harass them when they go out to dinner with their families.
Plenty of athletes open up about their struggles during interviews or through writing for The Players’ Tribune, but I see the bigger impact being on the kids who look up to them. Young boys and men in this country don’t always receive the support needed when it comes to mental health, especially boys and men of color.
Professional athletes are often who Black boys specifically see as the pinnacle of success, therefore they model behaviors after these athletes. The more professional athletes speak openly and honestly about mental health issues, the better of an example they set for these boys. Especially when the professional athletes who discuss mental health and wellness are Black. To some this may seem insignificant, but if you’re a member of the Black community you understand the stigma associated with mental health issues.
I understand, just about every subgroup in this country experience a stigma associated with discussing mental health. However, what we’re not talking about is how each subgroup approaches mental health and wellness. Within the Black community, it has yet to become fully accepted, which circles back to the importance of successful Black people with social influence sharing their stories about mental health.
Communities of color have plenty of reasons to experience the long-term effects of colonization (and slavery and imperialism and general degradation). However, discussions within those communities regarding mental health can be very limited. When you’ve been trying to bounce back from years of disenfranchisement, taking time to work through mental health concerns may seem like a luxury not afforded to you.
Of course, with time and upward mobility that leads to spaces where mental health discussions occur, the more these communities will also feel safe to address mental health concerns. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet for many communities, so if you’re asking yourself why some people don’t just go help themselves when they’re struggling, maybe you should take a step back and think about where they’re coming from. We all come from different experiences that shape how we approach problems, and that’s a major factor to consider when encouraging friends or family members to seek help for mental wellness.
We may not be in a place where we fully embrace mental health as a holistic piece to wellness, but we’re getting there. The more we normalize talking about mental health and seeking help, the more empathetic and sympathetic we may become. While this may start at the top with folks who have great social influence, the trickle down effect may create an opportunity to address mental health across class, race, gender, sex, ethnicity, sexuality, and all the intersecting identities of the people who make up this great nation. Although mental health discourse exists, it’s very much a white, middle to upper middle class discussion. And before you come at me for this comment, let’s dive into marginalized communities and mental health.
I know a lot of people will approach mental health with a “just make sure you’re practicing self-care” attitude. Sure, a bath with essential oils is physically relaxing, but it’s not going to cure your anxiety. I paint, write, and run for “self care”, but those things aren’t necessarily solving my problems when my mental wellness takes a turn. They serve as outlets, but ultimately, I need to go talk to someone. Experiences differ between us and how we manage our mental health and wellness, so by no means does my experience dictate the way to address mental health and self care. We can do all the self care in the world but if you’re struggling like Kevin Love was with panic attacks, more needs to be done in terms of taking care of yourself. A band-aid won’t fix a broken wrist, a bath bomb won’t fix depression.
Despite all the negative crap coming at us in the media, it’s important to acknowledge and embrace the good things, especially when they help us better our society. Creating more inclusive spaces for voicing mental health concerns absolutely will better us as a society and help us move forward with being better to each other in general. People with great social influence speaking out about mental health bring light to the issues on an even larger scale. The more people can relate and understand how mental health impacts us all, the better we can help each other.