A BYU professor is sharing three strategies for navigating mental health struggles: say something, know something and be something.
In a forum, BYU Public Health professor Carl L. Hanson described how these practices can aid in anyone's mental health journey, along with the important distinction between mental health and mental illness.
Hanson emphasized that while the terms mental health and mental illness are often used interchangeably, the phrases don’t mean the same thing. In order to discuss mental health, people need to say something about mental illness.
“Mental health is not simply the opposite of mental illness,” Hanson said. “Mental health exists on its own continuum and we can flourish and achieve optimal mental health or languish whether we have been diagnosed with a mental disorder or not.”
Hanson explained that everyone has the responsibility to speak about mental health and mental illness in accurate terms so that others have a better understanding of how to help people in the community.
"Having conversations about mental illness can help us reduce the stigma or negative perceptions of people with mental illness," Hanson said.
According to Mental Health America, more than half of the total adults in the U.S. and half of Utahns with mental illness do not receive the help they need. Hanson referred to a study that found that suicidal ideation within college students has increased 64% since 2013. That study also found that more than 600 people die yearly from suicide in Utah.
Hanson said some of the factors contributing to the number of suicides include “a lack of access to mental health care due to lack of insurance, fewer provider options, and cost of care and a personal choice not to utilize the services because of the stigma related to obtaining treatment.”
Suicide itself is not a mental disorder, Hanson emphasized — rather, mental disorders are causes of suicide. He urged everyone to look for ways they can support solutions and prevent suicide.
Hanson said there are many different root causes of mental illness, and these causes are usually put into two categories: risk factors and protective factors.
“Risk factors are those things that increase the likelihood of an individual experiencing the problem,” Hanson said. “Protective factors are those things that mitigate the risk and are often simply the opposite of the risk factor.”
Examples of risk factors include perfectionist attitudes and childhood trauma, Hanson said, while an example of a protective factor is healthy relationships, which research found help mitigate certain risk factors.
“Much of this work points to the powerful influence of context and our interactions with others in settings like home, school and communities,” Hanson said.
Ultimately saying something and knowing something about mental health doesn’t lead people to excellent mental health without also being something, according to Hanson. “To achieve optimal mental health, be our best self and flourish, we must be something as well,” Hanson said.
He explained that focusing on the journey of improving yourself while embracing failure will lead to better overall mental health. Hanson also emphasized that having an overall sense of wellness, otherwise known as being "wellness wise," will help lead individuals and their peers to better mental health.
“As we become wellness wise by embracing wellness as a whole person opportunity, we ‘will not only be capable of meeting personal challenge and change but will also bring strength to others in the tasks of home and family life, social relationships, civic duty and service to mankind,’” Hanson said, quoting the BYU mission statement.