May 17, 2021 – “But you can also look within a person’s life across people,” he continued, “and say that the average mental health state for people is to not be in a state of diagnosable disorder.” We apply the same way of thinking to physical health conditions, since “the average state of health for most human beings is to not be experiencing a cold or the flu.” Thankfully the mental health struggles that most of us face will be temporary—“sort of like wave,” as Schaefer described them. “They surge, they crest, and then for most people they recede.” Transcending Stigma. The impulse to set a high threshold for what we call “mental illness” actually may betray a pernicious form of stigma. It’s easier to see mental illness as something that happens to “those people” if it’s relatively rare. Conversely, the actual numbers suggest that going through a major mental and emotional challenge is typical of the human experience. Thankfully the work that Schaefer and others are doing has direct relevance to the dehumanizing stigma that continues to surround psychiatric illness. “You can think of pretty much any successful person you really admire,” said Schaefer, “and the odds are pretty good that they probably had a significant mental health problem at some point. That in and of itself is very reassuring and normalizing—and helps you realize you’re not alone.” That message can start early, with what we teach young people about mental health. “The main message for parents is one that emphasizes appropriate socialization around mental health problems, and early intervention,” Schaefer said. “Normalize talking about emotions and mental health. And make sure your kids know it’s perfectly acceptable to go to therapy.” We can also provide kids and teens with the tools they’ll need for managing mental health challenges—especially with the additional challenges brought about by COVID-related isolation. “Help them to cultivate the coping skills, the self-talk, and the daily routines that other areas of science have shown contribute to psychological resilience,” Schaefer advised, such as the research-backed practices of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).


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