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Pam Ebert
Sep 18, 2012

The Autumn of Mental Wellness

You have all heard about the Arab Spring, right, and how revolution started with the people and spread to other countries? Well, this Appalachian girl is calling for a revolution in how we view mental health. Why it is that in 2012 we still can’t quite talk openly about mental illness and people still think “crazy” is an official term for a person who lives with or suffers from a mental or emotional disorder? Maybe this Fall could be the one that makes the difference, the turn of the tides for those of us who live with mental illness.

I think stigma is SLOWLY beginning to ebb, but the emphasis here is definitely on slowly. This opinion is based mostly on my kids and their friends, who seem to not be as nearly hung up about mental illnesses as me and my parents’ generations and they are certainly better at talking about it than my grandparents’ contemporaries.

One of my proudest moments as a parent came a few months ago when my seven year old daughter was asked a question by one of my private practice clients, who was walking down the sidewalk to his car after his session. My daughter, who was taught to both never talk to strangers and to never, never accidentally or purposefully violate anyone’s confidentiality (yes, my whole family can define confidentiality and give you ways that you should not act when encountering a client!) was asked a potentially sensitive question from this client. He asked her “Is this where the crazy people come for counseling?” My wise, sensitive daughter replied “Yes, people come here for counseling sometime, but they aren’t crazy.”

Yes! The message had gotten through and my kiddo clearly understands more about counseling at age seven than many adults I know.

In my parents’ and grandparents’ generations mental illness was still whispered about, if indeed it was spoken about at all. My kids discuss it as easily as what they had for breakfast. That’s change, folks. I realize that my children may be a bit different because they are the child of a counselor and counselor educator, but from what I see of their friends and classmates, things are getting better all around.

The revolution has again come from within, not from without. My opinion is that although we humans, with our limited life spans and often short memories have made some really significant process in the last hundred or so years, particularly when it comes to mental illness.

My family, which, suffice it to say, has a long history of mental illness, can now not only speak about it, but effectively treat it. We are the first couple of generations in the history of time that can say that. Yes, there is much more to be done, but when you compare how things were in the early 20th century with the early 21st century, major progress has been made.

In addition to being a counselor I am also an amateur genealogist. While tracing my family history I have not only noted births and marriages, occupations and addresses, but symptoms of possible mental illness. While many of my ancestors have been teachers, many have also lived with depression, dysthymia, alcohol dependency and anxiety disorders and many of them were “treated” with the new therapies of their times. Electro-shock therapy, SSRI’s, the family “taking care of their own, denial and of course, talk therapy.

Maybe we as counselors should all take to Twitter the way that those brave peoples in the middle east did and start a thread encouraging others to bravely discuss their struggles and success stories. C’mon, people, take to the Twitterverse! Let’s start a digital wave of action; #autumnofmentalwellness. Tweet to me at @ebertpam.

Next week I will report on the results of this little social experiment. Maybe our children will look back someday and remember how their parents worked hard for social change related to the world of mental health and wellness.
And maybe their generation will be the first one to say that they don’t have to suffer from treatable disorders any more.

But then again, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Pam Ebert is a counselor in private practice while completing her doctoral work. She has a special interest in both rural and Appalachian cultures and how they pertain to the world of counseling.

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