As I and my wonderful executive team my campus chapter of NAMI work to bring the organization on its feet and have a solid student backing, we’ve had plenty of time to brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other as to how to actually recruit new members.
You don’t realize how hard it is to start a student organization from basically scratch until you’re in that position. It’s hard to get your voice heard over the many other student organizations, all of which are more established, who are doing the same thing.
How do we make our group stand out? What should we do at meetings to entice more people to show up and be able to implement the many ideas we have? It’s kind of pointless to plan an event if nobody would actually show up.
Luckily, word of mouth is a powerful thing. Many students didn’t even know our group existed, me included until this semester. And when they do hear about us, then they definitely have interest to learn more. It’s just about getting our message across.
So what is that message? Why should people care and want to support another student organization when their schedules are already booked up? What makes us stand out from the crowd? And, probably most importantly, why should people besides those who regularly manage mental illness care? It’s not an immediate concern or high priority when there are so many other issues to think about…right?
It’s easy to brush over the fact that regardless if we have been diagnosed with a mental illness or not, we all have mental health. It’s not like it magically arises from thin air once neurotransmitters start malfunctioning. It’s not like everyone becomes aware of their exercise and diet only once they’re at risk for heart disease and diabetes. We make healthy choices now and maintain a level of health and fitness to prevent future diseases. And some of those diseases are genetic and inevitable, but we know that we should be eating more vegetables and sitting less often.
Why do we treat mental health differently? Rather than a complement to physical health habits, we probably don’t think of tracking our moods or stress levels like a food diary or workout schedule. Most likely, we only think about seeing a therapist or becoming more mindful in daily life until we hit rock bottom. We’re trying to backtrack rather than be proactive and prevent problems in the first place.
Because when we’re feeling content and happy, it’s hard to picture not being that way, or that to judge abruptly for no apparent reason. Let’s face it, it’s not fun to think about. It’s not as glamorous or exciting to promote hotlines and medications when we could be advertising some fun workout clothing and fad diets.
That’s the problem in of itself. Even as we make progress and become more open about our mental health, it still feels like this far-off concept that we consciously must bring forth, while physical health is just automatic. We still only bring up mental health when it “feels” appropriate, when we’re with people who probably also are concerned about their mental health. You wouldn’t think twice about someone saying they’re sick and can’t come to something, but we can’t feel that same ease if we need a mental health day.
Our ultimate goal then is to make everyone care about mental health, regardless of their own background and history. Mental illness is far too common to not talk about it. Heck, too often we deal with physical symptoms and try to treat them with typical medications, when the root of the symptoms are your mental health. Stress, anxiety, and depression can have dramatic effects on your body.
We care about curing and eradicating diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS. We don’t have to have diabetes or MS or other diseases to care about them. But we push mental illness under the radar and simply offer how to manage it, often with uncomfortable side effects. We think those who care about mental health are only those who have problems, but why should that be the case? Shouldn’t we all want to take care of each other? If we’re able to have a voice, shouldn’t we speak up for everybody, not just those with visible illness?
The more understanding we have, the better off we’ll be. The more we can openly fight for the health of every single person, not just a select group. The more we can prevent increasing cases of mental illness in the first place. The more we can be our best, balanced selves.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie