Are people using the Mental Health card too loosely? (Opinion)

Photo by Anthony Tran via Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts. It’s a call-in show where callers ask for advice or share their thoughts with the host and the guests. One particular call irked me. As you can see, I can’t move on from what The Caller said that I have to write about it. The Caller responded to a question thrown by the hosts, “Are people using the mental health card way too loosely that it’s diluting its meaning?”. For better context, The Caller has been clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety and is taking medication. 

To summarize, The Caller believes that if a person can’t just say that he or she has cancer “just because he or she feels like it” then it’s the same thing with mental health. A person can’t just wear a badge of depression as if it’s something cool. The person should see a doctor, get diagnosed, and get medicated. (Side note: The Caller thinks breakups are just shallow life experiences that people can move on easily, that it’s not a conduit to a mental health issue or disorder).

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On the one hand, I think it might be an issue of semantics. The phrase “mental health” is always conceived equivalent to “mental disorder” (Imagine someone going koo-koo, holed up in a mental facility) when they are two different words. Mental Health, as defined by WHO is “The state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to his or her community*”. (Side note: It’s so broad, Mental Health was an entire subject when I was in college). Meanwhile, Mental Disorders are a component of Mental Health*. It’s defined as “the health conditions that affect and alter cognitive functioning, emotional responses, and behavior associated with distress and/or impaired functioning”.* But more than that, I feel this is pure judgment and condescension from The Caller’s end. (The Caller did admit to being judgmental). I will focus my next paragraphs on “mental health issues” and not clinically diagnosed mental health disorders since the former is subject to more contention.  

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There is more awareness of what mental health means, what the issues are and what affects it (and rightfully so). Of course, more people will realize that they have issues and come out with them. No one has the monopoly of mental health issues and struggles. Mental Health is not simply about getting diagnosed and medicated or being locked up in a facility. Not every mental health issue requires medication. Not everyone has the privilege or luxury or need to get diagnosed clinically, get medicated, and seek professional help. Despite the awareness, mental health issues and disorders are still not widely accepted by the system. Heck, on my side of the world, psychological counseling or psychotherapy services are not included in insurance coverages. I reviewed my insurance coverage and it only covers me when I get admitted to a mental facility. Also, we don’t know the depth of each person’s Mental Health issues or disorders because unlike physical health, where most symptoms are uniform and manifest themselves to the naked eye, mental health issues or disorders do not. So we don’t have the right to judge on who is “legit suffering” who is “suffering more” or “who deserves more help”. This way of thinking also prevents people with Mental Health issues or disorders from coming out, because there is judgment and condescension from fellow strugglers (which is always the issue within marginalised communities, it seems to me).

One of the major things I learned in college is that Psychology is not an exact science (I’m a Psych major, specialized in Clinical Psychology). It is a tragedy because its being non-definitive and exact is the reason why it is not taken seriously as a field of science, and that includes Mental Health. 

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On the other hand, I acknowledge that there are people who are using the increasing awareness of mental health issues and disorders to be “hip” and “cool”, as a license to be lazy, to act like assholes, or not take responsibility for what they do with their lives. That’s why these people think Mental Health’s meaning is being “diluted”. Even then, why do we need to focus on these people? Why can’t we just focus on getting ourselves better, to fight our battles, or help others who really need it? 

There’s no “lesson learned” or things “to do” in here, which I always have in my essays. This is only a rant. Nonetheless, I’m really happy with all the conversations going on around this issue. (Although I get too satiated sometimes). So no, I don’t necessarily subscribe to Mental Health card being used too “loosely”. Instead, I believe It’s an aspect of our overall health that is OVERDUE for attention and care. Maybe if we pay attention to it more instead of vilifying it and complaining that it is “used too much”, we will resolve alot more societal issues.

*Credits for Definition of Mental Health and Mental Disorders:

  1. World Health Organization
  2. Manwell, Laurie A.; Barbic, Skye P.; Roberts, Karen; Durisko, Zachary; Lee, Cheolsoon; Ware, Emma; McKenzie, Kwame (2015-06-02). “What is mental health? Evidence towards a new definition from a mixed methods multidisciplinary international survey”
  3. Manderscheid, Ronald W.; Ryff, Carol D.; Freeman, Elsie J.; McKnight-Eily, Lela R.; Dhingra, Satvinder; Strine, Tara W. (January 2010). “Evolving definitions of mental illness and wellness”
  4. Goldman, Howard H.; Grob, Gerald N. (2006-05-01). “Defining ‘Mental Illness’ In Mental Health Policy”

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