Updated: Sep 28, 2021
Growing up, I didn't know a single person that was depressed.
Or at least that's what I thought. It wasn't shameful or frowned upon to be depressed, I just never met someone who told me they were depressed. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that I learned depression was something besides what happed to the U.S. economy in the 1930's and again in 2008. Forgoing the ironic fact that I grew up in a town called Happy Valley, there were people that were experiencing depression around me, it just wasn't being discussed openly.
In the past decade, and particularly throughout the last two years, society has opened the floodgates on the mental health conversation and we are all better off for it. A friend of mine even gave a speech about mental health to 70,000 people. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the mental health conversation is that we've expanded our narrow view of what ones "mental health" means. We have done away with the solely negative stigma of the term "mental health." Beyond depression and anxiety, we have put our mental health on a spectrum. Whereas the negative stigma around mental health in the past kept our view on the negative, we can now include the 'well-being' side of our mental health.
We know that we can experience mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress on one end of the spectrum, but we also know that experiencing the fullness of emotions, maintaining healthy relationships, and being generally optimistic exist on the mentally healthy end of the spectrum. We have bridged the schism that seemed to exist in our view of our own mental health, formally connecting the ups and downs in our lives. Our depression can make us less forgiving of others just as our optimism can make it easier to bounce back from setbacks in our life. It is all connected.
Improvement Starts with Evaluation
Conducting a self check-in on our mental health can be a productive exercise for people. For those who find themselves on the left end of the spectrum, daily evaluations may be an important first step in improving your mental health. For those on the positive end of the spectrum, evaluations will probably occur less often. An evaluation can be as simple as asking "Where am I at today?" or as robust as having a mental health professional conduct a formal assessment. It is important to note that you may be experiencing both ends of the spectrum in a short period of time. This past summer, I vividly remember speaking on stage to an audience of over 2000 people while dealing with near overwhelming anxiety related to a personal health issue.
Evaluating where you are at is important, but so is taking action. Here are three questions we can ask to evaluate and ultimately improve our place on the spectrum.
1. What have I been reading?
The benefits of reading have been proven time and time again. However, we should not forget that what we are reading is maybe more important than reading itself. If the only words we are feeding our brains come from our friends Facebook posts or if we can't remember the name of the last book we read, then we have to consider the consequences that may be having on our mental health. At the end of the day, we are what we read.
2. What have I been watching and listening to?
In 2019, my wife and I were living in a remote town and logging a lot of car time getting out of town. It was at this time we dove head first into the murder podcasts, aka the "True Crime" genre. If you're not familiar, it is story after story of serial killers, unsolved mysteries, and extreme crimes that have occurred around the world. After only a month of listening, we were leaving Target around 9pm and without saying a word to each other got in the car and both sighed a deep breathe of relief. We had both been holding our breathe thinking about the possibility of getting abducted, a thought that had never occurred to either of us prior to listening to this podcast. We both agreed right then to stop listening to the podcast and we were better for it. Is it okay to be careful when out and about? Of course. Is it okay to be constantly anxious and paranoid that you're going to get kidnapped? That's no way to live.
What you watch and listen to directly impacts the way you view the world and process events. Maybe it's time to find a new show on Netflix.
3. What have I been eating?
This past weekend I was in Orlando visiting some old friends. When I arrived I immediately noticed my buddy had lost a significant amount of weight. I asked him if he'd been hitting the gym and he said, "Nope, just cut out carbs!" Beyond his physical appearance, he said the biggest difference he noticed was how much energy he has when waking up. The food we crave when we are depressed or anxious may be the exact opposite of what we truly need to feel better. Feel free to do your own research, or just take my word for it that if you eat better, you will feel better.
The Potential for Better
I saw a quote on Twitter recently that said,
"Both optimist and anxiety require us to imagine something that hasn't happened yet. If we have the ability to worry about the future, it also means we have the ability to imagine a better one."
The state of our mental health is not permanent. First, we must evaluate where we are at. Understanding why may be more complex, but what we read, watch, and eat can be both a part of the explanation and part of the method to improving. No matter what, there is always the potential for improvement.
For more on questions, mental health, and improving your life, feel free to check out my site. Remember to make someone better today, even if that person is you.