I don't know about you but whenever the topic of mental health comes up I immediately think of mental illness. I start thinking all One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, hospital psychiatric units, bizarre behaviour and despair. This is strange because I'm a psychologist and while I've never worked in a clinical setting like a hospital or even with counselling clients, I've had all the training and probably know more than the average person about the workings of the mind.
I think it's quite normal to think the worst about ill health. Our minds tend to prepare us for fear and drama. It's part of the fight or flight response, readying us for disaster. But mental health is not mental illness. The absence of illness does not necessarily make us healthy, it just makes us okay.
The medical profession seems to have worked out the sales pitch for health versus illness. When we think of physical health we now think about exercise, vegetables, glowing skin and energetic activity. I do anyway, but maybe that's because I've been fortunate enough not to have too many brushes will illness - or I've seen one too many TV ads for health insurance?
I applaud the fact that we as a community are now talking far more frequently about mental illness and challenges to mental health. We have footballers, actors and politicians talking about their experience with depression. Documentaries are made and shown on the topic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Organisations such as Lifeline and Beyond Blue are actively promoted on social media. This week - National Mental Health Week - our national TV broadcaster ABC1 has a full schedule of programs illustrating and educating us on mental health challenges.
There will be a lot of discussion about mental illness in the coming week - and that's impressive and important - but I'm hoping that there will also be talk of mental health and what we can do to make our minds as fit and as energetic and as strong as we like to make our bodies.
Mental Health Australia - the peak, national non-government organisation representing and promoting the our mental health sector - has kicked this off with their campaign, Mental Health Begins With Me. They are asking us all to make a Mental Health Promise - a few small and simple things that we can each to do maintain and strengthen our mental health. They have a simple and stylish web site where you type in your promise - only a few words - and upload a photo. They then send you your nifty looking Mental Health Promise poster as a reminder of the promise you have made to yourself to look after your emotional and psychological wellbeing. I've done it. You can see mine above and here.
This week I am going to write about mental health - what it is and how we can improve ours - each day so come back and have a read. In the meantime you might like to make your own Mental Health Promise. You can do it here and I'd love to hear about it when you do.