Change the Way You Think about Mental Health

With my new job, I’ve certainly been in the thick of things related to mental health. Working in healthcare related to psychiatric disorders is fascinating, as each day and experiences are fairly different. Although a patient might come into the hospital with the same diagnosis as another patient, their symptoms and traits might be very different from one another, which makes treatment pretty challenging. Every person is unique and so are their brains. Since mental health deals with the brain, you can only imagine how different every patient is from one another and how this informs how we use music therapy to help treat patients.

Recently, it has seemed like many different media outlets have focused on discussing research and new insights regarding depression. I listened to two different episodes, on two different podcast shows, that came out in the same week that focused on depression. The first show was TED Radio Hour, which featured speakers such as Andrew Solomon, who is an author and speaker about his own major depressive episodes, as well as other TED talk speakers who highlighted the various stigmas and discrepancies around mental health. Here are some of my takeaways that I found to be not only fascinating, but essential to begin implementing into my daily music therapy practice, and knowledge as a human being.

Mental health disorders are not “chemical imbalances” in the brain. I feel like I had learned in Psych 101 that mental health disorders were chemical imbalances, because of all that dopamine, seratonin, and norepinephrine dysfunction. However, David Anderson points out in his TED talk that mental health needs to be looked at from a neuroscientific approach. Mental health disorders come from a failing in brain circuitry. Our brains are not made up of “chemical soup” and it’s not the chemicals that need to be researched, but in fact the neurotransmitters and synapses. Anderson points out that the reason why so many medications for depression and anxiety don’t work all that well is because you essentially throw them onto the brain like a soup and say, “Hey, well, I hope it lands where the problem lies!” Anderson’s studies are fascinating, and if you want to learn more, listen here.

We don’t do anything to treat our mental health like our physical health.

Physical Health
Mental Health

Why is it that when people are undergoing mental stress and difficulties, as a society, we do not treat this as okay or acceptable? Like as stated in the info-graphic above, we never give people the time, ability, and acceptance to deal with mental health in the same way that we do with physical health. At the same time, Guy Winch challenges us in this TED talk to take care of our “emotional hygiene”. As a society, we never take do enough to practice self-care and to help prevent mental stress, which ultimately can lead to deeper mental and physical health issues.

Here are more images like the above that depict these same issues.

Although we avoid conversations about mental health, the U.S. is one of the leading countries dealing with these stigmas, as discussed in this second podcast about depression. If we don’t have conversations about how people are feeling and treat them with respect and empathy, then the questions won’t be asked to fuel the need for research, and subsequently, cures. Mental health currently deals with stigma, misdiagnoses, and hushed voices. Demi Lovato gives a great talk on the importance of speaking up about mental health, with the intentions of reform. Even if you are not one to know what to say, or how to treat someone with a mental health diagnosis, then the best thing you can do is be empathetic, as you would someone with a physical health diagnosis. The video below describes how to do this beautifully.

As the holidays come upon us, bear in mind that many people find the holiday season difficult. The National Alliance of Mental Illness came out with this info-graphic this year to help you keep in mind how you deal with the holiday blues and to practice that “emotional hygiene”.


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