Has Mental Health Become Just Another Buzzword?

Everyone’s talking about mental health. Often, it’s in the context of commodifying self-care – face-masks, bath bombs, and adult-coloring books galore. Conversation around mental health has created an entirely new market, capitalizing off the notion that “everyone has mental health.” Which brings me to the question of the day – does everyone have mental health?

In short, of course everyone has mental health – we all have brains and emotions and experience stress and feelings of anxiety. But not everyone suffers from a mental illness, and we make very little distinction between clinically diagnosed mental illnesses and every day mental health. In reality, there is a huge difference between the terms “mental health” and “mental illness.” Mental health is likened to emotional wellness, described as

a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

To juxtapose this, mental illness is much more medical and much less universal. Mental illness is

a recognized, medically diagnosable illness that results in the significant impairment of an individual’s cognitive, affective or relational abilities. Mental disorders result from biological, developmental and/or psychosocial factors and can be managed using approaches comparable to those applied to physical disease (i.e., prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation).

Naturally, markets have capitalized around the growing prevalence of mental health in our vocabulary. Notably, these markets appear to be targeting women, with huge emphasis on relaxation products, self-help books, and over-priced essential oils. Does self-care work? Of course! It works for some people, many, in fact. For example: face masks make me feel better when I’m stressed or come home from a long day. But self-care frankly doesn’t get at the root of my mental illness – a bath bomb doesn’t change the fact that I have multiple, clinically diagnosed mental health disorders. Instead, my options for treatment stretch outside the realm of self-care and into the world of professional treatment and medication (which, unfortunately, are incredibly inaccessible and not viable options for many).

We sweep up mental illness and emotional wellness into the same category, all falling under the buzzword “mental health.” Though often not intending to, universalizing mental health by saying things like “everyone has mental health” and “everyone needs a mental health day” further delegitimizes mental illnesses by implying that they are something that everyone experiences. Not everyone experiences mental illness, and most people never will. Mental illness is not the same as every day, situational stress that everyone feels. We need to stop feeding ourselves this narrative that self-care is the solution to all mental health related problems, because for many folks, self-care is not an option due to the debilitating nature of mental illness.

To quote Vice,

we’ve reached a brick wall with mental health. For starters…the overuse and misuse of words like “anxiety” can lead to them losing all meaning. “Raising awareness” and “breaking taboos” are nice phrases for brands and publications, but at this point, are they really changing anything?

Instead of marketing mental health and convincing ourselves that mental health complications are universal experiences, it’s time we start acknowledging the pain folks who suffer severe mental illnesses experience and work to change our oppressive behaviors, policies, and structures. Mental health services continue to be cut, further oppressing people with mental illness, people who do not feel “cured” from a bit of self-care, but desperately need these services to live healthy lives.

It’s not an easy, surmountable task, but it can be done. From realistic representation of mentally ill characters in television and books, to fruitful conversations about ableism with family and community members, to lobbying against budget cuts to mental health services, we can all find a part to play in the movement to create a just and equitable society for people with mental illness. The buzzword of “Mental Health” has began to break the stigma – and now it’s time to create tangible, equitable change for people with mental illnesses.

Writing Vlog #1!

Hey folks!

Exciting news: I am working on posting videos to my YouTube channel about my writing experience! As a young, unqualified, struggling writer, I want to connect with others in similar positions, or anyone who has advice!

Check me out:

Poetry Instagram – LIVE

Hi folks! As many of you know, I was working on a book at the beginning of this past summer. That book is now complete, awaiting my final read-through and responses from agents. I will keep everyone updated about that process, but to be frank, it’s a little disheartening. It’s so much work. Query letters and summaries and resumes and cover letters…I just want to get that story out there!

A piece of excited news — I have launched my first writing Instagram, where I’ll be posting lots of poems and allowing my most recent wave of creative energy to take over. Follow me @littleerinbigworld on Instagram! I am in the process of compiling a collection of poems that focus on my experience with seasonal depression, of which I’ve deemed “cyclical.” I will be posting bits of those pieces to my Instagram and on here as well.

Thanks for sticking around! I’ll provide a longer update when I get around to it! For now, go hit that follow button!

21 Books that Broke My Heart

I read a lot. Often, when I find myself stuck in my own writing, I turn to books to fuel my need for words and creativity. And books…they have a way of breaking your heart. Even more than that. Tearing it up into little shreds! Yet my favorite books of all time are the ones that have broken my heart into a million pieces – it’s a cathartic kind of release, and it shows the power of words and storytelling.

Warning: there may be minor spoilers below. Here is my list, from least to most heart-breaking (granted, they’re ALL heartbreaking).

21. Mosquito Land by David Arnold. I really enjoyed this story, particularly the reveal at the end of the novel. A great exploration of mental health, grief, and growing up.

20. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I absolutely adore Doerr’s work – I’ve read a lot of his short stories and love how worldly they are. This book was beautifully written and full of feelings – a unique perspective on Europe during WWII.

19. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. When I was in high school, I went through a huge Jodi Picoult phase. I love the raw emotions in her work, but this novel in particular blew me away. Picoult managed to show all sides of a tragic story about a school shooting in the most memorable way…this will always be my favorite Picoult book.

18. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. While Nineteen Minutes it my favorite Picoult novel, My Sister’s Keeper broke my heart into many more pieces. Out of character for me, I saw the movie first. The book is much different, and the twist was so unexpected for me…such a deep and thoughtful novel.

17. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. This is the best novel about a dog that I have ever read, such a deep and powerful insight into human life. And, as everyone knows, dog novels always end up breaking your heart in the end.

16. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. This may be my favorite book about mental health. Such a real and honest look into depression and anxiety. I saw the end coming from miles away, but it still hurt.

15. Sold by Patricia McCormick. This one didn’t make me cry as much as it made me gasp, so much heavier than most novels because it is based on true events. I felt for all of the girls in the novel. EVERYONE should read this book.

14. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Ah, the classic tear-jerker. Even though I was able to predict the ending from pretty early on, I still cried, and I cry every time that I re-read the book or watch the movie.

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green. At first, I really didn’t like the characters, so it was really hard for me to get past the first part. But in the second part, Green provides such a realistic look into how death impacts students and friendships…I cry every time!

12. The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. I read this book after a friend committed suicide. It was the most realistic book about losing a friend to suicide that I’ve read thus far…

11. Pastel Orphans by Gemma Liviero. This may be one of my favorite (next to The Book Thiefbooks about the Holocaust. I was speechless while finishing it.

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I bawled after the last movie. Harry Potter was my childhood. The last book will ~always~ get me.

9. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. This book hit home so much for me, because Charlie’s experience with mental health is so similar to mine. Such an amazing novel. I have read it so many times – my copy is fully annotated! This is my favorite book — while it may not be number one on my heartbreak list, it’s number one in my favorites list.

8. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. It took me a while to get into this book, mostly because I don’t know much about planes or war. But the twist at the end of the novel…it was like a lightbulb lit up over my head! I cried so much! Highly recommend everyone read this and stick with it until the end.

7. If I Stay by Gayle Forman. This book will always make me cry – the concept of losing your entire family is so jarring, and the decision Mia had to make haunts me.

6. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. It took me about half-way through to get into this book, as the two different timelines confused me a bit. But once I realized what had happened in the story…wow. This was a book that stuck with me for so much longer after I finished reading. The characters were so profound, it is one of my favorites.

5. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid. Yet another one where I actually watched the movie first, not knowing there was a book. This story amazes me every time, there are so many layers…highly recommend. It deals with loss and grief and mental health in such a beautiful way, as well as dealing with historical trauma, racism, oppression…so well done.

4. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I read this novel shortly after I had lost a friend, unexpectedly, and it was so real, and so shocking…such an amazing book. It impacted me so greatly because I was going through a traumatic loss at the time.

3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Every time that I read this I sob uncontrollably, in all honestly. The last time I read it I cried for over half the novel, I was a mess! This book hits home especially for me, because a friend of mine was murdered similarly. The way that Sebold describes the family member’s reactions, how they continue with their life…so heartbreaking and real.

2. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. SO GOOD. Even though the narrator (death) literally tells you what’s going to happen, it’s still so heartbreaking!!!

1. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. This will forever be my number one because it was the first book that ever made me cry, and showed me the immense impact of storytelling.

 

SHORT STORY: Depression’s Apology

I was there when Cynthia’s mom died. She was only seven. She didn’t know who I was, or what I was, but she saw me. She felt me there, I think. She didn’t want to see me, though, so she closed her eyes and I hid. I stayed hidden for a while after that. Always there, but hidden.

I watched when the kids on the playground would tiptoe around her. They could all see me there, standing, hovering…watching. The visible, painful sadness, always in the room. But Cynthia? She ignored me for as long as she could.

I was there the day that the teacher with the long nose and messy hair called her out for being late. Cynthia hung her head and tried to ignore me. When the long-nosed teacher passed back her math test and Cynthia saw that she got a D-, she stuffed the test into her backpack and glanced up at me. She knew just where to look, which makes me think that maybe she knew I was there the whole time. When she got home, she let me hold her, and she cried so hard she threw up. I don’t think she was crying about the math test. Not really.

I was there when she got cut from the soccer team. The coach said she was too distracted, she wasn’t there, she didn’t get along well with the other girls. She didn’t connect. She let me hold her that day, too. I think it was my fault she got cut. I was always in her way. But she blamed herself.

I was there each time she felt a rush of emotions, waves of pain and sadness and anxiety that would suffocate her. I saw the looks her friends gave her – some furrowed their eyebrows and twiddled their hands nervously, worriedly, others rolled their eyes and snickered. “Is she crying?” the boy with the square-shaped head whispered to the freckled girl sitting on his lap. The girl shrugged and rolled her eyes. I held Cynthia’s hand when she cried alone in the bathroom stall.

Eventually, she looked at me. She looked at me for longer than a glance, she stared at me, she let me enter in through her eyes and travel down to her heart. I latched on, I made her heavier, and I held her tight. She let me wrap my arms around her each night and she let me tag along behind her at school. She let me whisper in her ear. “Worthless,” I told her, “There’s no point.” I didn’t really think that. I’d become quite fond of her, actually. But it was my job.

She let me consume her. I loved her and I think she loved me too, in a messed up sort of way. I couldn’t help it. I needed her to feed, to drain her, to fill her heart with my darkness. And she needed me to hold her at night. I think I made it all worse, but she didn’t have anybody else to hold her, not even herself. So I did my job.

The kids on the playground used to see me following her. They would look me in the eyes. They would point to me and they would hug Cynthia, thinking if they held onto her, I would go away. I never did. Eventually, they all stopped seeing me there. Stopped noticing. The more and more Cynthia gave herself to me, the more invisible I became. Cynthia didn’t see me then, when she was a wide-eyed, pig-tailed girl on the playground. But she sees me now, and nobody else seems to. Funny how that works out.

This is my apology, I guess. I know that I’m just doing my job. But I can still apologize.

I’m sorry,

Depression.

Time to Write a Query Letter?

Hey folks! A very exciting update – I FINISHED MY (hopefully?) FINAL READ THROUGH OF MY BOOK!!!! Which means…it’s time to find an agent? Or submit to publishers?

I’ve been obsessively googling how to get a book published, and everywhere tells me it’s hard. But I’m going to take it step-by-step and begin with drafting a query letter to send to agents. Since I don’t have much of a platform nor have I ever published a book, this is going to be hard work. WordPress followers, readers, & friends, if you are able, I would love to hear any advice you have! And, of course, if anyone knows somebody who could be a fit, please do contact me. I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated. Being honest about this process has been holding me accountable, which is important!

So, there’s where I’m at now. Wish me luck…

On Recieving Feedback

Throughout this whole process of getting my book published (I firmly believe that if I keep saying it’s going to happen, it will!), the scariest thing for me has been opening myself up and letting people read it. Before this process, I was terrified of feedback. I receive feedback on my academic writing constantly, but my creative writing? Never. It usually stays hidden in files on my computer or tucked in between the pages of my journal. Although my creative writing is often about fictional characters and not me personally, so much more of myself shows up in my creative writing. I was afraid to share that with the world, and I am still am.

Part of my fear stems from my general introversion and trust issues (hey, we’ve got all them), but another part comes from the sense of elitism that is so pervasive within the writing community. I don’t have an English degree, nor was I drawn to it – to be honest, I’ve never liked the way English is taught in academic settings. It may be my best subject, but that’s only because I’ve learned to write the way that professors and teachers want me to. Perhaps I’ve just had poor professors, but all the English professors I’ve had in college have stifled my creativity, which is what drew me away from an English or Creative Writing major and pushed me towards Social Work, where I’m working on fulfilling my dream of doing some good in this world. By sharing my writing, I’ve learned something incredibly important: You don’t need an English degree to be a writer.

I’ve been blown away by the heart-warming and positive responses I’ve received. People are really connecting with the characters and invested in the story, which makes me so so so happy! I’ve been told by multiple people that I write like John Green, which is one of the best compliments a person could give me. But, of course, I opened myself to constructive criticism as well, something I don’t generally take well – I’m a highly sensitive person who thinks she knows best. I can be rather difficult.

HOWEVER, I’ve seen that the suggestions people have given me are helping me figure out the parts of the story that I struggled with and they have made the story so much better. I am so excited for everyone to be able to read the final version – I am almost done with the last read-through and am actually proud of it! Which means a lot, coming from a perfectionist.

Overall lesson from this experience: People aren’t as mean as you think they’ll be. If you put your heart and soul into your writing, it’s important and worthy of readers. People want to help. And besides, if you don’t agree with their criticism, you know the story best!

Until next time!