The British soap EastEnders is well-known for tackling brutally honest subjects, from teenage pregnancy and homosexuality to dysfunctional family rows, keeping our televisions buzzing with drama. Nowadays, however, such drama is all too often not only on the television but also in our real lives, whether it's to do with extremist public events, or intense private matters, all linked somehow to human behaviour.
Dramatic behaviour, as well as the day-to-day stresses of life, has an impact on our emotional and mental health. Recently, so wound-up after dealing with an intense personal matter, I had to detox my mind, removing myself from the Internet and the drama for at least twenty-four hours. Interestingly, experts say that how we handle matters can be a measure of how emotionally and mentally healthy we are. Certainly, I felt better for the detox.
HelpGuide.org, a widely viewed US non-profit website, defines mental or emotional health as overall psychological well-being, and explains that being emotionally and mentally healthy is not just about not having a clinical mental illness such as depression, but about the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties. Here in the UK, a National Health Service (NHS) website concurs.
It's not surprising that mind matters are a common concern. The Mental Health Foundation in the UK reports that one in four people experience diagnosable problems every year, and in the US, the National Institute of Mental Health says that while tens of millions of folk have mental and emotional health issues, only half of them receive treatment.
Why is this?
One possible reason is that the majority don't necessarily see emotional and mental well-being as broadly defined as above, and restrict it to clinical illnesses, such as schizophrenia, personality disorders, and so on, and rightly or wrongly, exclude themselves. Regardless, they attach stigmas to these things, too.
According to a BBC science report, there are still myths around mental illness: for example, that it's down to a personal weakness, despite research showing otherwise.
Thinking back nearly thirty years ago when a friend suggested I -- a steel magnolia -- try counselling, as a resource for coping with my new, exciting, but challenging life in the Big Apple, I certainly didn't wave a flag about seeing a therapist.
With roots in the African-American and Christian communities, both with histories of weathering storms intuitively, if you will, but not with psychological assistance, I had taken on board the stigmas and myths. But over the years, I have come to understand that treating mind matters is as important as treating physical health, hence the detox.
April L. Taylor, founder of Sound Living Counseling in Tennessee, who works largely with women and their families, as well as in the Christian community, says sadly that the stigmas are still there. Although inroads have been made in the area, with more physicians referring to mental health, many people are still reluctant to admit the need for help, or to reach out for assistance.
'There are concerns about privacy and confidentiality, and fears and misunderstandings about diagnosis,' Mrs Taylor says. 'And from a Christian perspective, some people feel that Christians should not get depressed or become suicidal. Many believe we should pray and trust God and things will get better. Although praying and trusting God is important, people need counselling and/or medication, to help with emotional and mental health issues,' ... just as they would with physical health concerns.
In their book, The Worry Book, Wil van der Hart, a vicar in the Church of England, and Rob Waller, a psychiatrist who works in the NHS, point out that people rarely see the psychological contributions to worrying, which certainly is a mind matter. They tend to see it as a spiritual issue.
As they say, 'It's no surprise then that they [people] often feel too ashamed either to acknowledge that a problem exists or to seek help to overcome.'
Still, there is work to be done to prioritise mental health care, regardless of cultural or religious background. That said, there are a plethora of resources in the UK. Not only is there the NHS, but also there are private therapists and charities devoted to varied emotional and mental well-being issues. And if an individual is hesitant to ask for help, friends and family can contact their GP on their behalf, or one of the relevant charities.
In the US, Mrs Taylor recommends explaining to friends and family what type of help is available, then calling and making an appointment on their behalf, or going along with them. Meanwhile, she says that experts in the US are, collectively, making an overall effort to change the terminology to 'behaviour health', presumably to make the topic more attractive.
Realistically, however, an offer of help sometimes goes down like a lead balloon, because often those in need are not only reluctant, as mentioned above, but also unwilling to acknowledge that their problems exist.
Possibly they are trapped in a sort of denial. One friend who has worked in counselling doesn't find this surprising at all, explaining that it is impossible to reason with someone who thinks unreasonably.
Another acquaintance, a holistic nurse healer, suggests that it might be a slow, painful process, because even emotionally healthy people have a difficult time looking within. It is much easier to point the finger at others.
Still, it has to be worth a try to overcome the stigmas of emotional and mental health and begin taking care of one's self, for a better quality of life, as well as supporting friends and family, even if it does take a bit of persuading and hand-holding.
Most of us would do no less with a physical health matter. So why not seek out treatment for emotional and mental health matters, putting drama into perspective and, when extreme, back into the television?