I much prefer using the term Emotional Health rather than mental health. It made me curious how the term mental health came about. So, I dived into the research a bit deeper to find out how and why it brings such a bad stigma about it.

How the term mental health manifested.

In 1843, Sweetzer, an American psychiatrist, coined the term “mental hygiene.” Sweetzer was concerned with promoting mental health and preventing mental illness, particularly in the context of public health.

The term “mental hygiene” was inspired by the concept of personal hygiene, which emphasizes practices to maintain physical health and prevent illness. Sweetzer extended this idea to the realm of mental health, suggesting that just as individuals need to take care of their physical cleanliness to prevent disease, they also need to maintain their mental well-being to prevent mental illness.

This made great sense to me. Furthermore, Sweetzer believed that mental health should be a priority for individuals and society as a whole. He advocated for education and public awareness campaigns to promote good mental health practices, such as stress management, emotional regulation, and healthy relationships. He also emphasized the importance of environmental factors, such as living conditions and social support networks, in influencing mental well-being.

Now, knowing this, it makes me think that Sweeny would be greatly disappointed with the stigma mental health still carries, especially when he, himself, is a man. One of the most common findings in the literature is that females are more likely to seek help than males. I don’t think that any of us are surprised by this, especially knowing that in February 2024, it was reported that in Canada, the suicide rate among males has consistently been at least double that of females over the past two decades. In 2021, there were around 15 suicide deaths per 100,000 population among males in Canada, compared to a rate of five per 100,000 among females.

As a psychotherapist practicing in Canada, and noting that May 6-12 is Mental Health Week, it really seems like a paradox of sorts that a) we as a society have normalized stress and b) think therapy is only for weirdos or people who are weak in heart and mind.

When did identifying and talking about our feelings and thoughts become shameful? Not to mention, answering the question, “How are things going?” and saying, “ Ah, you know, just busy,” became an esteemed achievement.

Have I missed something?

Why are we masking the suffering that we are all feeling? Because, HELLO! We are humans, and that is what we do on planet Earth. Instead, we wear a badge of honour to be so busy that we) cannot answer our friends and family’s messages (note: text messages only please – heaven forbid we talk to a human), b) be so unfocused that we need medications to help us to stay focused, c) use excuses such as our aging brains when we walk into a room and ask ourselves ‘ What did I come in here for?’ or open the door of the refrigerator, to calm our emotions, rather than the door of our homes and jump into nature and be in the moment.

No wonder my 84-year-old mom often questions whether the world has gone mad. To which I promptly answer, “Yes, Mom, but that means I won’t lose my job to AI.” Then she looks at me even more baffled, wondering what AI is.