Behind Closed Doors: Redefining the Perception of Mental Health and Illness


During the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, mental illnesses originated from the gods. Disorders were consequences for certain behaviors, and were carried out by means of "divine punishment or demonic possession." Additionally, there was no clear line that differentiated between physical and mental problems, as treatments and remedies for both types were rather similar. Such treatments were a bit different than today's, as they rarely prescribed medication of any kind. Instead, they relied on observing a patient's behavior, utilizing methods like counseling and restraint, and encouraging magical remedies. Today, there's a negative connotation associated with the word "mental." Often, the word is used to reference an individual or an entity suffering from disorders or illnesses of the mind. People relate it to terms that are also less technical, such as "crazy," "mad," and "lunatic." It's this type of word association that has become commonplace in daily conversation, further cementing the stigma against mental health. However, it's important to remember that "mental" is an adjective that more simply describes something of or related to the mind in general.

For example, the phrases "mental health" and "mental illness" are mistakenly used interchangeably. So what's the difference between the two?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are related, but not one in the same. The CDC defines the two as such:

Mental health is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."

Mental illness is defined as "collectively all diagnosable mental disorders” or “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning."

It's time to stop viewing either of the two phrases as synonymous. One's mental health, which can be further affected by mental illness, is valuable. The healthier an individual is, both physically and mentally, the easier it is for he or she to carry out day-to-day duties and activities.

Having a mental illness is never a choice. | Source: BU Today

People who struggle with mental health issues may not always have a mental illness. Instead, there may be a combination of factors that influence one's mental health, including psychological (perception of one's self), past history (family and relatives), current life events (such as relationships or other daily stresses) and biological (this is where illness comes into play). Those living with mental illnesses are not doing so by choice. Having a disorder or condition - be it mental or physical - is never a choice.

It's important that we start to redefine our perception of mental health and mental illness. We can actively do this by educating ourselves and those around us and by being mindful of our choice of words when interacting with others.


This post originally appeared on Mama Tanap, a blog that focuses on personal health and wellness.

Behind Closed Doors: A Hidden Gem on a College Campus - Mental Health

In the Fil-Am community, there is a cultural mistrust against seeking mental health help. Among teens and young adults, who may fear shame from their community and peers for seeking help, this problem is also quite prevalent. Unfortunately, college students are at a high risk of facing high levels of stress and mental health illness. However, students also have the most resources available to them during their undergraduate (and graduate) years. One of these resources, which is considerably underutilized on campuses across the nation, is the school’s counseling center. The stigma that 'seeking help from a counselor means that you’re admitting defeat or weakness' often deters students from seeking help. Students dread being embarrassed and shamed. Some students even fear risking their academic career, and may choose to carry on silently with their struggle. However, choosing to get help and talk to a mental health professional can be a very positive and life-saving experience.

Why are college students depressed?

depressed maleDepression is increasingly more common among college students. For many students who go off to college, it can be an extremely trying transition period. Students have to get accustomed to new surroundings, influences and peers - all without close supervision or parental guidance.

This is a critical time of growth for college students, as they are learning responsibilities that they may not have had experience with before in the past. Students are becoming more independent, having to manage their time, and steering toward their future careers. Often, they don’t know the importance of taking care of their mental health, or don't know the steps to do so in a college setting. It's crucial that college students remember that they are not alone in whatever they are facing.

According to an Associated Press-mtvU poll, about four in ten college students are experiencing depression. Students who need mental health attention should not be afraid to get help. There’s nothing shameful about it, and it doesn’t make that person weak or incapable of dealing with their issues. Rather, making the decision to ask for help shows great strength and self-awareness.

What are the advantages to going to a counseling center during college?

  1. Services are free. While some students do inquire about mental health services at their counseling center, others don’t always know where to get help. Also, beyond college, it becomes more difficult to get help, especially when dealing with mental health coverage and insurance plans. Simply put, it is expensive to receive mental health help after college.
  2. Those who reach out and take advantage of  counseling services experience a considerable decrease in their stress levels and worries.
  3. Students can still turn their life around and steer toward a healthier life, even if they feel like they have done too much damage to their academic (and professional) record and relationships with others. Anything that has fallen by the wayside can still be salvaged and improved.
  4. Students will be able to access more resources, especially if they need more intensive help. This includes getting outside counseling, receiving medical attention, or meeting with other mental health professionals.

What are some signs that someone should seek help?

  • feeling down or hopeless
  • violence and hostility
  • suicidal thoughts
  • self-harming actions
  • changes in eating habits
  • not sleeping enough
  • not attending class
  • not enjoying things that you used to
  • substance abuse 
  • social anxiety
  • academic stress
  • conflict at home

Are there alternatives to the counseling center?

  • Call the national suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Talk to someone you trust: parent, family member, teacher, primary care physician, spiritual leader
  • Seek additional support here.
  • Read more information here.
  • If you want to get involved with mental health on your campus or in the community, contact your local Active Minds chapter or NAMI chapter.


Photo credits: The Guardian and and Sujen Man

Behind Closed Doors: Fil-Am Mental Health

Mental health and safety aren’t regularly discussed in our society. Our culture as a whole has stigmatized mental illness, as if it were an infectious disease. In a recent report, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes that the US mental health system is far from sufficient. Health services and laws vary across states, further deterring individuals from seeking help. However, in light of recent mass shootings, discussion on mental health in America is becoming more prevalent. But why must it take a tragedy to discuss something so important? The Fil-Am community, which has more easily assimilated into American society in comparison to other Asian communities, rejects the help-seeking mentality. In a study, E.J.R. David says that “cultural mistrust” plays a major role among the Fil-Am community. Mistreatment and oppression throughout Pilipino and Fil-Am history has certainly influenced this mistrust. However, one of the findings was that younger generations are more inclined to seek psychological help, as they don’t have the same concerns as first generation Pilipinos. Those more assimilated and familiar with American culture were more willing to seek help. Furthermore, the study found that those with a higher economic status have more opportunities to seek help.

Group therapy.

Like in other Asian communities, loss of face and shame are feared among Pilipinos. As a young Fil-Am, I unknowingly lived with this mentality. I used to be afraid to open up and ask for help when I needed it. Sharing my most difficult struggles wasn't originally part of my personality, nor my identity. For me, admitting that I needed help required a lot of courage and a loving support network. It wasn't until my second year of college that I realized seeking help was even an option. After a referral from one of my advisors, I visited the William & Mary Counseling Center. I was afraid; I felt like I was admitting defeat, and that I wasn't strong enough to face my problems. I eventually realized that I was wrong. I ended up returning to the Counseling Center throughout the rest of my time at William & Mary. I attended meditation sessions, individual therapy, and, in my opinion the most helpful, group therapy. Being able to speak my mind, without fear of judgment or having to follow through with explicit advice, was reinvigorating. I knew I was being heard, and in turn, got as much out of it as I put into it.

After such a positive experience at the Counseling Center, I was proud of my newly-acquired love for seeking help. I found myself encouraging others to also take time out of their day to explore new outlets, be it exercise, lost hobbies, or seeing a therapist. I even got involved with student government and organizations on campus in order to spread mental health awareness.

I only hope that the younger generations can embrace this mentality, and encourage their peers and the larger Fil-Am community to do the same. We can only benefit from confronting Fil-Am mental health. Regardless of cultural expectations, it is important to be selfish when it comes to your personal well-being. Speaking from personal experience, I assure you: there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help.

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