Mental Injury vs Mental Illness?
When you hear the term mental injury, what’s the first thing you think of? If you said post-traumatic stress, you’re not alone. But that’s not the only kind of mental injury.
Neuroscience is still in its infancy so it isn’t easy to define mental injury or mental illness. In fact, it is likely that most of what we call Mental Illness is actually a complex, chronic mental injury. This is an area where we need more studies done.
Causes of Mental Injuries
According to Psychology Today, there are seven common mental injuries. We encounter these injuries most often and are equal to scratches and scrapes. Like minor wounds we may suffer from these things once, many times, or as a chronic or ongoing injury.
- Rejection—whether it’s from friends, spouses, or employers
- Failure—from failing a test, to failing to complete a self-imposed task, to failing an assigned task, or failing a friend.
- Loneliness—that feeling as thought current relationships aren’t fulfilling our needs or we feel disconnected
- Loss–it could be a friend moved away or the death of a loved one or pet
- Brooding and Rumination—when we feel compelled to stew on sad, angry, or other negative feelings
- Guilt—we all feel guilt sometimes, sometimes it’s excessive or lingering
- Low self-esteem—we all have issues with low self-esteem from time-to-time, sometimes it’s crippling.
Any one of those seven injuries can start out as a small thing. But like a scratch, if it’s not treated it can fester and become chronic or life-threatening. Suffering from one of these injuries can also bring about one of the other mental injuries. For example, if a date rejected you, you may also feel low self-esteem and loneliness. The combination makes it a complex injury and harder to treat.
Becoming aware of and recognizing these injuries is important. Then, you need to treat them. How do you treat them?
Unfortunately, there is no bandaid or tincture of “feel better” to apply to all mental health wounds. No two individuals will react the same way to the same situation. So we each need to develop our own mental health first aid kit. A kit can be phone numbers, rituals, comfort items (teddy bears, blankets, etc.) But there are some basics.
The first step is to educate yourself. (Yay, you’re reading this so that’s part of the first step!) Be able to recognize that you’ve sustained a mental health injury. Pay attention to how you feel. Learn what will help soothe your pain, comfort you, and restore your feelings of self-worth.
Many people talk to a trusted friend or family member. A good listener will be supportive and help you rebuild your feelings of self-worth. Sometimes, that’s all that you need.
What if you don’t have a good listener and supporter at home? That’s when talking to a teacher, clergy person, or medical professional might be helpful. Check your local and state government offices. They often offer some free services such as support groups. Check your medical insurance. Some insurances have a helpline or cover mental health services.
Most help or crisis lines are free. They will listen to you, give you information, and refer you to services in your area.
Here are a few helplines.
Emergency Medical Services—911
If the situation is life-threatening, get immediate help by calling 911. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat
Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST. This organization provides free information. They may refer you to treatment programs, support groups, or educational programs. NAMI also offers help for family members, information about jobs programs, and connections to legal representation in your area.
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
offers general information on mental health and can locate treatment services in your area. Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.
Help Someone Else
If you have a family member or friend who needs some mental health first aid, call the helpline. They can give you information and suggestions on how you can help your friend or family member. There is also a mental health first aid class that you can take. Learn more about it at mental health first aid dot org.
Mental Health First Aid
This month my blog posts were inspired by Guy Winch’s TED talk on emotional health. You learned about “Feelings: They’re All in Your Head,” “Big Brain-Little Brain: the Mental Health Connection,” and “You Have the Right to Feel Good About Yourself.” These posts are not to diagnose any condition nor to recommend any treatment. They are intended to guide you to a different way to think about yourself and your mental health. You must decide if you need to research these ideas further or if you need to seek professional help for diagnosis and treatment.
Mental Health First Aid Kit
As children, we learned how to protect ourselves from physical injuries. We learned how to take care of ourselves when we have cuts and scrapes and bruises. But mental health and mental injuries were devalued and ignored. We owe it to ourselves to learn about mental health, mental injuries, and mental health first aid. These few posts on this site are but the tip of the mental health iceberg. Be proactive in your own mental health. Educate yourself further on what is best for your mental health. Have you developed your own mental health first aid kit? Would you share one item that’s in it?