Shifting Perspectives On Mental Health: Moving From Awareness To Acceptance

As we move into new seasons, we are given opportunities for new perspectives. Shifting our perspectives can sometimes be a challenge. Shifting takes conscious work; you shift perspective by thinking or doing something differently to change yourself, your situation or others. To create a strong and resilient community, we must work together to shift our perspectives to be inclusive and accepting. If we reflect upon the past ten years, it is safe to say that the awareness surrounding mental health has increased through engaging social media, the sharing of our authentic experiences, and normalizing that seeking help is brave. But, awareness is easy; we can be aware of many beliefs, behaviors and concepts even if we do not agree. We are aware of messaging around mental health as we scroll media platforms and we are aware as we gather with friends and family. But, are we accepting of the nuances related to mental health and wellness?

First, we recognize that awareness is simply realizing that someone has a challenge; we are aware of the different types of challenges and experiences that people have. Acceptance is telling them they are not alone, motivating them to receive help, and/or working together with them. Acceptance comes from a place of understanding and action. We move from being knowledgeable about mental health to now participating in the movement of acceptance. Perspective shifting lets you shift out of your normal point of view to discover new ways of thinking and understanding to make our community more safe and healthy for those who are experiencing challenges.

Vincent Ryan, in their article “Why Is Acceptance Important to our Mental Health?” speaks beautifully on acceptance by saying;

“One reason why acceptance can be so important is that it is very hard to do anything constructive about something when we don’t accept it. A degree of acceptance can be an important requirement for real engagement and for change to happen. A second reason why acceptance is the change that’s needed, is individuals begin to make peace with something that has happened that is painful and difficult to bear, something that is a real loss for us. Life is filled with losses, big and small. Another reason why acceptance is important for the mental health movement is that it can be a gateway to compassion for oneself and for others. This can often be very important for healing and moving on. As humans, we inevitability face all kinds of painful emotions as part of life, as part of our human endowment. And sometimes we inherit beliefs that we should not have some of those emotions — that it is not safe or it is shameful or we are somehow weak or bad or unlovable.”

When we accept that ourselves, children, neighbors, colleagues, friends and family can have these emotions, challenges and experiences, we pave the way for positive healing and acceptance that this is normal and expected. Often times we hear people respond to the challenges of the human experience with toxic positivity; you know, the excessive overgeneralization of happy statements. Well, being a human, we experience a range of emotions throughout a single day. When someone minimizes emotions, we begin to feel that they are invalidated. Responses and stigma that deny feelings can negatively shape help seeking behaviors.

Mental health challenges can occur at any time across the lifespan. While the pandemic has heightened challenges for many of us, the mental wellbeing of the young people within our community and across the globe have been greatly impacted. These challenges have existed long before the pandemic but now more than ever, we need to accept how young people feel and validate that these difficult emotions are normal. We can no longer romanticize the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality; the attitude that we must accept responsibility for everything that happens to us. The effects of the pandemic prove, that through no fault of our own, our lives can change drastically and abruptly. As a community, we need to ensure that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care. We must support the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. We need to address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families, and caregivers. More than ever, we need to reduce stigma associated with youth mental health and be a bridge to getting young people the resources they deserve.

The mental health programming provided by the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene acknowledges that stigma, outdated mentalities, and toxic positivity are real concerns when we open up conversations about mental health and help seeking. We alleviate toxic positivity and emphasize acceptance by validating those challenges and emotions our community members face, we express authentic empathy, we share our lived experiences, and we provide practical resources related to professional help and self-care.

Thinking about our own perspectives and acknowledging that acceptance takes work, I challenge you to reflect on mental health and how you perceive it. I challenge you to be a bridge to help in someone’s life.

Christina Breen works as the social emotional learning and training specialist with the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene and Chautauqua Tapestry Resilience Initiative working alongside the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Chautauqua County. For more information on programming and trainings, email BreenC@chqgov.com or visit preventsuicidechq.com.


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