We are not our mental illness: Streisslberger

Gerontology student addresses common misconceptions about mental health

By Erica Streisslberger

We are humans, we are not our mental illness and our mental illness does not define who we are. I am going to explain the difference between mental health and mental illnesses. 

Mental health is something that we all have; we can take care of our mental health by eating the right foods and by working on our physical health. 

I know for myself and my mental health, I love to walk and also do kickboxing. Taking care of my physical health helps me focus on my mental health.

This leads to my next point about mental illnesses. Many people think that if they have mental health then they have a mental illness. I’ve seen and have talked with many people about mental health and they think that it’s the same thing. 

This adds to the stigma of talking about it and getting the proper help you need. 

I recently spent a whole afternoon with a homeless person who had a mental illness and the way he was talking you would have never known that he had a mental illness until he said something about his mental health. 

For others, mental health gets thrown around so lightly that it then becomes hard to talk about and everyone just pushes it to the side. 

The singer Demi Lovato has spoken about this subject. She feels that people think when you seek help or treatment it’s like going to a body shop with your car, they fix you up and you leave well. 

Finding proper treatment and help is not like that. It takes time and work to feel and look better.

I am very passionate about mental health. I think that it has to be treated as an illness the way a physical illness would be treated.

When I go to my doctor I make sure they look at every part of my body including my mental health. 

When I was first diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression, I made sure that I talked about it and asked my doctor what to do.

She put me on medication, suggested I see a counsellor and be tested at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).  I did that and found a counsellor at a place called ADAPT in Oakville.

ADAPT has meetings similar to the 12-step program and one on one counselling. While researching ADAPT, I found that many people use counselling as a tool in their tool box.

I also found that once I was open and started talking about mental health and mental illnesses those around me started talking about it too. 

I feel that once someone starts talking about it, they can open the gateway for others to be open and honest.

That is something that I needed to do because once you become open and honest you can surrender to the process and get the help you need. 

Surrendering to the process may look different for everyone, but to me it’s leaning on the people who are there to support me such as: my counsellor, my doctor, my sponsor from my 12-step program, along with my sister, niece and lastly teachers in my program.

Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today, writing this and getting the word out about mental health and mental illness. So please, find the support you need and be a support for someone who is struggling.

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We are not our mental illness: Streisslberger