Mental Health Matters (Guest Post)

After sharing part of my personal mental health journey on Facebook, Ali invited me to share a bit of my own story via her blog. I have appreciated the opportunity to spend time collecting my thoughts; sometimes I am guilty of progressing through life without taking time to truly reflect. For me, writing is a way to slow down and express myself on paper. Expression is a much-needed practice for every human being. So, thank you Ali, for encouraging me to take time to reflect and express myself. 

Mental health matters. Three simple words that carry so much weight. As a society, I believe we are SLOWLY making efforts to demonstrate that we value mental health. However, our culture is obsessed with physical health – with constant advertising regarding the latest diet frenzies or most effective workout routines. 

Certainly the two are related. I have found that when I am in tune to my physical needs and well-being, it has an overall positive effect on my mental health and vice versa. Conversely, mental health struggles (for me: anxiety and depression) negatively affect my physical wellness. If I’m feeling anxious regarding deadlines, the last thing I want to do is to take an hour break to work out. If I’m depressed, all I want is to curl up on the couch with a bag of Grippo’s potato chips. 

Everyone has varying mental and physical needs. The challenge is to embrace introspection and discover what you require. For me, hypocrisy actually was the impetus to finally take accountability for my personal mental health. Allow me to explain. 

I work within academia and I’m currently writing the dissertation for my Ph.D. program. The topic of my study is mental health for international students in higher education. Additionally, I was part of the inaugural group of the University of Cincinnati Mental Health Champions, which is comprised of faculty and staff that are dedicated to promoting mental wellness on campus. 

This is where I experienced a disconnect: I was researching and promoting mental well-being, but had taken zero measures to protect my own mental health. I’m a pretty stubborn person (just ask my family & friends and they will validate) so it took me some time to admit that I needed help. Once I finally sought counseling, stubbornness transformed to shame and I only told a select few people that I was attending weekly counseling sessions. 

Looking back, I hid this part of my life because I was afraid others would judge me. A portion of this struggle was an internal battle, but I also attribute some to general societal perspectives of therapy and counseling. I was afraid to be regarded as weak because I had sought counseling; in retrospect, I acknowledge that there is immense strength in admitting that you need help. 

“There is immense strength in admitting that you need help”

I am extremely extroverted and an external processor by nature, so being able to talk openly to a counselor was instrumental in my healing. Through counseling, I discovered that while sometimes I feel depressed for no particular reason, typically, my depression can be tied to a root cause. When I experience tremendous stress, it causes me to have increased levels of anxiety. In turn, when I have prolonged periods of anxiety, it can eventually lead to depression. 

Honestly, sometimes the world feels so crushing that I am just thankful to have made it through the day. With the current racial climate, pandemic, and seemingly perpetual stream of election-related news, I doubt I’m alone in this sentiment.

However, through the assistance of my counselor, I developed means to mitigate my stress levels in order to cope with my anxiety and depression. For me, a long walk outdoors is immensely therapeutic. Nearly every day for the past six months, I’ve gone for a walk. Whether it’s for 30 or 90 minutes; during my lunch break or after work; with or without a walking companion; I’ve learned that in order to be compassionate and empathic towards others, I have to first take care of myself. When pressures mount from a myriad of areas and a long walk seems out of the question, I remind myself that the world is not going to end because I’m taking time for myself. 

So this is my challenge to you: experiment with what recharges you. Whether or not you have a mental illness, we all have sources of stress in our lives and how we ameliorate stress will vary. What works for me, may not work for you. This is the danger of comparison: we want to analyze our progress against others’. Not only is this unhealthy, it will also lead to faulty results. 

Mental wellness is unique for everyone. The sooner we can acknowledge that mental health is a varied journey, the sooner we can all embark on our personal paths towards wellness.

This post was graciously written by Sarah Jernigan. If you want to join in breaking down the stigma of mental illness, if you want to inspire hope in others who are suffering, or if you want to experience the therapeutic benefits of being vulnerable, please visit my contact page to send a message.

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