May Is Mental Health Awareness Month. Here’s Why It’s Time to #stopthestigma.
Big names are working to #stopthestigma around mental health. Like Oprah and Prince Harry. They have teamed up for a new Apple TV+ docuseries, The Me You Can’t See, featuring mental health discussions with A-list celebrities. Conceived in 2019 the show launches May 21.
Will a show talking openly with famous people about mental health make a difference? The short answer yes. Because anything that breaks down the stigma around mental health is good. In fact, “it’s time to demolish the stigma,” says Dr. Margo Jacquot, founder and Chief Care Officer at The Juniper Center.
Stigma prevents people from getting proper care.
One of the biggest myths around mental health is that if you need to talk to someone, it means you are crazy. Even the medical field contributes to this. When they are unable to diagnose a medical condition that they can treat, a doctor may say “it’s all in your mind.” What does that even mean? If you are experiencing physical symptoms, they are real.
“People come to us who are very functional. They just want their lives to be better,” says Dr. Jacquot. We also serve people who have serious mental health needs, she adds, but “there are too many people who suffer needlessly because they are ashamed to get help.”
If you Broke Your Arm, You Wouldn’t Wait to See if it Just Went Away
When something goes wrong with your skeletal system, you seek medical help. As natural bodily systems go, our nervous system also can get out of whack. That’s when you might see a therapist.
Our nervous system is connected to our sensory system: our eyes, our ears, our nose, our palate. Unfortunately, what the science is discovering is that more of us are living with our nervous systems in an amped up state of fight, flight, or freeze. The alarm goes off late, the kids can’t find their stuff for school, there’s traffic—these stressors of daily living are driving our bodies to produce more stress hormones on a more regular basis.
These naturally occurring chemicals in our bodies, when overproduced, can be corrosive, literally, to some of our organs. Our nervous system was intended to operate in short bursts. “If you were a cave-person and saw a saber-toothed tiger, you would run back to the cave, and boom, you’re safe, so your nervous system resets,” says Dr. Jacquot. “Now we live in places and spaces where there is so much to stimulate our nervous system all the time. It’s natural that we might need help to revert to calm.”
What Happens in Vagus…Doesn’t Stay in Vagus
Here’s one look at what happens to your body, physically, when you are stressed. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, originating in the brain stem and extending down through the neck and abdomen. The vagus nerve helps to regulate many critical aspects of human physiology, including the heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and even speaking.
Stress activates your nervous system. This nervous system dysregulation activates the vagus nerve. That can impact all your vagus-related bodily functions: heart rate and blood pressure go up, you start sweating. Digestive or stomach issues are common reactions to ongoing stress.
Mental Health Is Physical Health
All of this is to say, it’s time to demolish the stigma around seeking help for mental health, when the science shows that all of it is connected so much to our physical, bodily operations. If you are anxious, your flight system is jammed. If you are often angry, your fight system may be stuck. If you are feeling depleted, no energy, exhausted, and there’s no physical explanation it means your nervous system is out of whack. A therapist can help.
I invite you to join me to #stopthestigma around seeking help for mental health, during May Mental Health Awareness Month and every day.