Time for a physical

Why do those words have to sound so painful? Wouldn’t it be nice if that were a sign of something positive? Often times we anticipate bad news or just await the awkward feeling of baring it all in front of a stranger. Day after day many people do make that undesirable trip to the doctor to receive their physical. They understand the importance of keeping up on good physical health. They understand how important it is to take care of things now as it is just developing before it becomes too problematic to deal with. It’s not a person’s most favorite thing to do but they do it. They do it because it’s just what we have been told to do for most of our life.

Unfortunately, very few people take the same steps for their mental health. They don’t check in with themselves or anyone else on a regular basis to see if they are “healthy”. Instead, the approach the many take regarding this matter is reactive. They wait and see how long they can handle things before they absolutely recognize and acknowledge that it’s time to get some help. The sad truth is that we take better preventative measure with cars, plumbing, and for some even their landscaping than we do with our own mental health. The irony in this is that without a strong mental health we often suffer the most devastating effects on our physical health, therefore, causing us to seek medical treatment.

So why is this? Surely people have to understand the connection between mental and physical health. Surely people have to understand that living a life regularly filled with stress, anxiety, depressed mood, marital conflict, family conflict, etc., must have a negative impact on their physical health. I’m sure that anyone over the age of 40 who visits a doctor has heard the speech about the connection between stress and heart attacks and/or a stroke.

So what is the barrier keeping people from having the regular mental health physical? Sadly, it is the fact that we still live in a world that ostracizes and stigmatizes anyone who deals with their mental health through seeking assistance from others. We still live in a world that portrays a therapist as a 50 year old bearded white male who wears a white lab coat and deals with people in a dark mysterious insane asylum. The reality is that most therapists/counselors couldn’t be farther from this stereotype. Sure there are still some holdovers that fit that mold. But the landscape of counseling has changed dramatically, for the better I do believe.

Therapy is no longer primarily focused on the severely mentally ill. The primary focus of therapy isn’t about helping the people who are schizophrenic and can’t carry on a normal conversation. It isn’t about helping those that are so severely depressed they have suicidal thoughts multiple times a day and have to be under constant supervision. Sure these people still do exist and they do still receive therapeutic services. However, the vast majority of therapy work today is done with people who are dealing with common everyday challenges who just need that little extra support to get through to where they want to be.

The everyday challenges that people are facing are the challenges of making their relationship work after an affair; how to regain trust. The challenges of a middle school student who is constantly disruptive in class because of their hyperactive or distracted behaviors. (No, not all kids are Attention Deficit) The challenges of parenting an adolescent who suffers from depression and/or anxiety. Therapy focuses on helping the adult who has been told they have “anger problems” realize that really that anger is better explained by calling it anxiety. The list goes on and on regarding these “everyday problems”. The challenge is getting people to realize that they don’t have to deal with these challenges on their own.

It’s time for people to start getting a physical. A mental health physical. If couples took inventory of their relationship once a year and were not aggressive towards each other, and were able to communicate with their partner what they both need to do to improve their relationship, we may just see a significant decrease in separation and divorce. If families took inventory of how the children felt about their parents and the general atmosphere of the family once or twice a year, we may just see a decrease in family conflict. If individuals received their mental health physical to see how they were coping with current life events maybe their primary care physicians would be treating less heart attacks and depression.

We have well woman checks. We have annual physicals for men. We have sports physicals and checkups for kids. When will we get to the point when we realize that it’s okay to have a mental health check up? Life continues to evolve and change every day in the fast paced world we live in. We are connected to anything we want to be connected with through only the touch of a button. Yet somehow we continue to operate with an outdated vision of how much importance we should give our mental health. Seems a little crazy to me.