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Denial is an Enemy, in Mental Health

Written by Dr. Gia Marson

This may seem obvious: but to find solutions, we have to first clarify the problems. In this way, denial is an enemy. When it comes to mental health, we cannot afford to ignore realities– that suicide, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, bullying, sexual objectification, sexual assault and eating disorders are far too prevalent. Each year, 1 in 5 Americans struggles with mental health issues. Keeping secrets about our individual troubles adds to isolation, to stigma and to the potential damage to our souls. We need each other to weather storms. As a psychologist, I am not afraid of talking about these problems. I am afraid of denying them. I am afraid of the secrets, the stigma, the not listening and of delaying intervention.

Imagine if you had never learned to multiply. What if you just pretended you knew how? What would you have had to do to keep your secret? What work-around would you have made? Most likely, at some point, the system would break down. It might happen in high school, college or on a job. Forced to confront the problem, you might fail your class or lose your job. However, when the missing skills are psychological, pretending can be life threatening.

Our power lies in acknowledging problems, listening carefully and engaging in responsible, open-hearted conversations. Thanks to research and clinical practice, we know that mental health skills can be learned and recovery is possible. Emotional, cognitive, behavioral, relational and spiritual functioning can improve. We can develop self-compassion and more compassion toward others. We can practice gratitude. We can increase the time we spend paying attention to positive moments. We can exercise to improve a down mood or meditate to decrease emotional reactivity. We can be vulnerable so others can care for and about us. We can focus on our values to connect to meaning and accept, rather than suppress negative emotions. We can use our imagination to see a hopeful future and then lean into it.

It’s time to reduce the denial and stigma around mental health, identify our cultural challenges and talk openly with those we trust about our own shortcomings or difficulties. Are you struggling with something? If so, to whom can you turn? Where can you seek resources? Make a plan to reach out for help. Healing comes when we face our problems. We can grow resilience.

– National Institute of Mental Health

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