For most of us, going to the doctor is a normal part of life. We get annual checkups and do our best to follow our doctor’s recommendations. If a problem is found, we see a specialist: for heart palpitations, you go to a cardiologist. For skin problems, you go to a dermatologist.
But there is one area of health care that many people still feel bad about — mental health. why?
The brain is our most vital and complex organ and is critical to our experience as human beings. From a medical perspective, the electrochemical processes within the tissues encasing the skull are just as important or intentional as the electrochemical processes protected by the rib cage.
So why do we stigmatize taking care of one without the other?
Mental health or brain health as I prefer to call it should be treated as a medical issue as we would treat any other part of the body. As we proactively monitor and protect our heart or kidneys, we must protect our brains as well.
The brain is much more complex than other organs, which means that it requires its own set of exercises. It’s not enough to watch our diet, sleep or run on the treadmill – although these activities certainly help. Instead, taking care of the brain requires unique exercises that can strengthen neural pathways in a healthy way. One such tool to help achieve this goal is therapy.
Most people have the wrong idea about treatment. A visit to a therapist doesn’t have to happen only when you have a problem. It also does not necessarily mean that you have a brain disease. Instead, therapy can and should begin early in life as a consistent method of gaining self-insight, practicing therapeutic tools and identifying obstacles to brain health before problems arise.
Preventive brain care allows you to overcome life’s challenges more successfully. It can also help you mitigate potential ailments, especially for people who are predisposed to brain health conditions through genetic or environmental factors — as it can for anyone with a predisposition to other health problems.
Another misconception people often have about therapy is that the therapist’s job is to fix them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Like most things in life, you get out of therapy with what you give. Just as signing up for a gym membership won’t get you ripped abs, sitting on a therapist’s couch won’t strengthen your mind—you should actually make an effort. In the case of therapy, that means a willingness to learn and practice the tools given to you, even if that kind of exercise means sometimes trading sweat for tears.
One of the stigmas of getting help is that the majority of men feel less comfortable seeking treatment than women do, even during active medical crises. This is due to the long social history of masculine power equated with the withholding of emotion—a natural biological process that defines the human experience.
Denying men access to the full emotional spectrum not only impedes life fulfillment, but also increases the likelihood of committing violent acts, including suicide. This lack of social acceptance for men to seek help is also likely an important factor in increasing the harm done to women.
Enhancing our brain’s ability to function well is one of the best ways we can interact positively with ourselves and each other, making seeking mental health treatment a strength, not a weakness.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer, writer, contributor to The Colorado Sun, and is a reader support nonpartisan news organization. The opinions of the columnists do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom.