It’s time to start a conversation about mental health—and mental illness. Let’s be silent no more about debilitating disorders that affect millions of Americans. Empathy is the capacity to recognize and understand the feelings, thoughts and experience of another person. When encountering someone suffering from a mental or emotional illness, most of us struggle to empathize with the individual, because we simply have no basis of comparison for what she or he is going through. We can shut our eyes to imagine being blind, spend a day in a wheelchair to gain more appreciation for the mobility we take for granted or remember our last bout with the flu to feel for the person undergoing chemotherapy. But the very nature of mental illness makes it almost impossible for a “healthy” person to walk a mile in those particular shoes. This contributes to oft-understandable but misplaced impatience in our interactions with someone who has a mental health condition. We want to shake the sibling who is depressed and implore her to “snap out of it.” We look at the talented actor who dies of a drug addiction with frustration and dismay that he “threw away” his many blessings. We are angry with the “selfishness” of a loved one who commits suicide. The hyperactive child in the cafeteria clearly is “spoiled by permissive parents.” We wish that our anxious friend would just “buck up and try ; if she made an effort, she’d get over her shyness and insecurity.” The coworker who won’t make eye contact, is always stiff and makes us uncomfortable is dismissed as simply “weird.” Excepting those with the most profound symptoms, we often think the solution for everyone else is that they simply need to try harder to overcome their problems. If you’ve ever reacted this way, you must be a terrible person, right? Of course not. These attitudes have persisted for centuries—and largely because we don’t talk about mental health. We don’t “get” it; we can’t ,without some kind of personal reference point. In our struggle to identify and find empathy, mental illness becomes a baffling puzzle—one that feels scary. And uncomfortable. And unpleasant. So we don’t talk about it. And then not talking about it perpetuates a sense of shame and stigma, which distances us even further. This month, in School Nutrition’s annual personal development issue, we’re gonna start talking about it. And we encourage you to keep the conversation going with your family, friends and colleagues. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2% of Americans ages 18 or older—one in four adults—suffer from a diagnosable mental or mood disorder in a given year. Given those statistics, it’s exceedingly likely that you, someone you love or someone you work with struggles with a condition that no one wants to discuss. It’s time to start. Let’s all work to open our eyes to the realities of various mental and emotional conditions. Our enhanced awareness will continue to improve our comfort in discussing the topic, and this should lead to greater tolerance—and empathy—for those who struggle.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Mental+Blocks/1643244/198767/article.html.