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Do you even know what mental health means?

Perhaps the most sinister part of mental health is how much knowledge, work, and energy is required to even properly understand it.

They say that you don’t know what you don’t know. Well here’s where things get tricky when we try to understand and manage mental health. Neuroscience is a relatively young field with a very long way to go. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, the most popular genre of anti-depressants, work well despite us not fully understanding how or why they work.

We are also witnessing a revolution in the mental health space the likes of which have never been seen. COVID normalized what was previously stigmatized. Changing demographics means Millennials and Gen Z’ers have more of a voice in the world, which we use to magnify the focus on mental health as not only a real issue but an urgent and pressing one.

There’s just one tricky part about mental health management that nobody tells us about: we may not even know that we need help and would benefit from mental health services because we don’t have enough knowledge to understand that anything is wrong. Even accepting that we need to work on mental health requires a floor of knowledge about behavioral, cognitive, and mental patterns, and the ability to discern them from each other.

In other words, you have to learn a lot before you can truly understand what may be affecting you.

I lived 27 years of my life with severe anxiety. It infected every action I took, every thought I had, and every human interaction I experienced. Because it was so rooted in my way of thinking, I had no idea it was distorting every interaction I had. I was echo chambered by my mind. A prisoner and hostage to anxiety, trapped the whole time and ignorant of the fact. And I’m not alone in this.

Borderline personality disorder. PTSD. Anxiety. Depression. Countless others.

What are we suffering from by our own hand, without even knowing it?

It took me bottoming out in my life to finally seek help, and even once I had it’s been a multi-month (and likely will be a multi-year) process of rewiring my brain before I hope to reach the pinnacle of what I think is a sustainable mental state. And yet, even when I bottomed out, I had to read for hours about mental health management. Talk to others for advice on how to process emotions. Ask friends to confirm if my thoughts were distortions. Write out my thought patterns, analyze, and question them. Read self-help books about anxiety management. In other words, I had to be taught. And I had to be taught a lot.

For so many out there who are out of touch with their feelings, or perhaps out of touch with their thinking, a disturbing truth emerges: mental health in our world today requires a large amount of effort by the individual seeking help, but most individuals only seek help when things become dire or if they are lucky enough to have folks around them spotting the issue for them (and even then, they have to listen). We do not educate children about how to process emotions. Parents (bless them) try their best, but the thought leadership on these processes are scattered at best, and backward at worst. Resources for mental health are incredibly scarce, with most health insurance coverages not providing ready access to a therapist. If you are uninsured or cannot afford to pay out of pocket for one, you’re out of luck.

The tide is changing as we learn more and more about the mental health space and companies innovate to lower the cost of care, but one truth remains: if one wants to battle mental health earnestly and honestly, they must accept that they do not know what they do not know, and begin educating themselves on the vast system of literature and content that may help guide them in their journey.

Mental health is not simple. Mental health is not an “I read an article so I understand it” issue. It is not “I feel OK so I don’t have any mental health issues.” It is not something that should be given lip service without true understanding.

It is not an “only Millennials and Gen Z” issue.

The basis for mental health is metacognition — thinking about how one thinks. Just as important is metacognition applied to one’s feelings — thinking about the way we feel and unpacking these patterns. Such trends in human behavior know no gender, ethnicity, culture, age, or demographic. The mind is a tool that all humans have been blessed (or cursed) with, and to most effectively live out our days in humanity requires us to master the tools that our minds offer.

Educate yourself. Accept that you do not know what you do not know, and that is OK and part of the process. Ask questions and be curious with folks in your network who are fighting these battles. Begin to spot the warning signs in your own behavior and cognition for how mental health issues may be impacting your life. It can feel like a scary journey initially, but it is one that (i) gets easier over time and (ii) we will emerge stronger, happier, more fulfilled, and more balanced from fighting.

There is no time to begin like the present.

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Hi! I’m Julian :) I write about mental health, lines of thinking, culture, and whatever else I feel like. Harvard Law (‘18) UC Berkeley (‘15)

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Julian Sarafian

Julian Sarafian

Hi! I’m Julian :) I write about mental health, lines of thinking, culture, and whatever else I feel like. Harvard Law (‘18) UC Berkeley (‘15)

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