It’s often that I struggle to explain what I DO every day – what my “purpose” is in terms of supporting students and educators. Most people have a very specific definition of what a counselor is, and what we do – usually based on an experience they have had with one. Describing mental health and the care of, to other people, non-counselor type people, has proven difficult for me. And I JUST had this moment of AH HA! Thinking…if I can’t even put what I do into one coherent, descriptive statement, how is anyone else expected to?
So we must start somewhere. And since this is MY blog, I am choosing to start here – Mental Health, what the heck is it? If we think of our Physical Health it is pretty easy to describe and understand what this is and how we take care of it. Our Physical Health, or physical well-being consists of how our body is functioning as a whole – is everything working as it should? Our arms, legs, toes, eyes, lungs – how are these parts of our body (our physical body) functioning? How do we care for our physical health? Easy answer for some – preventative health care (THANKS Obama) – we go to the doctor, dentist, nurse, for checkups and check ins. They look in our ears, nose and down our throat, they poke and prod, look and listen, they draw blood and...take...samples…of other things. They run tests, labs and other science’y things that I don’t understand to help keep them and us informed of our overall health.
Mental Health appears to be a little more abstract. Our Mental Health consists of our psychological, emotional, and social well-being as a whole. It is directly connected to our physical health, I’ll get to that, andit involves processes such as how we handle stress, relate to others in our environment and make choices throughout of lives. How do we take care of our Mental Health? Not as clear cut as Physical Health care... at least not yet. And honestly, that topic alone warrants a novel length post, so we’ll skip over it for now.
Now, mental health doesn’t appear to be as clear cut and visible as our physical health. We can’t poke and prod, or take labs to identify ADHD or Depression. Identifying mental health issues involves mostly listening, looking at patterns, connecting past and present. Curve ball, sometimes mental health issues like Depression CAN be identified through blood tests or a physical health examination. For example, with Depression looking for deficiencies or inconsistencies in mood related chemicals in our body like serotonin, nor-epinephrine and dopamine can help explain a person feeling down or depressed more often than they’d like. In fact, our mental health is so intertwined with our physical health it’s practically one in the same.
Many healthcare agencies, including most in Michigan, have begun to look at integrated health care for this very reason. Integrated health care meaning Doctors and Counselors and Therapists and Nutritionists and (whoever else I forgot) all working together in the same office, sharing a client information to ensure that treatment outcomes are the best possible for you. It means when you come to me with anxiety symptoms – I will tell you, we’re going to work identifying where this stems from, what thoughts reinforce those feelings, how those feelings impact daily life and ultimately what you would like to change about that. I will also recommend that you see your primary care doc to talk about stomach, heart and muscle complications in regards to anxiety – together we’re going to connect what we can see - physical health (your bodies physical responses to anxiety) to what we can’t see - mental health (anxiety).
So here’s my semi short – this is what a counselor does – explanations. Counselors help identify and clear away obstacles in your life that you feel are preventing you from ____ (fill in the blank). Counselors are problem solvers, bright side finders and perspective turners. We’re reality fixate'ers and coping skill creators. We’re resource researchers, feeling validate'ers, and mediators. We’re connectors and navigators and resilience builders.
So Mental Health is Health – it’s part of our well-being. Ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The grandpa in that movie, he always says “Give me a word, any word, and I’ll show you how the root of that word is Greek”. Same applies for Mental Health – give me a Mental Health Issue, any Mental Health Issue and I betcha’ there’s a connection to Physical Health and vice versa.