Happy or Healthy?

Happiness is an interesting word to me. Some days it’s all I’m looking for; other days I don’t even worry about it. I have a complicated relationship with happiness and ‘being happy’, and for a good reason. I feel like it can be a buzzword in the mental health community that is overused and misunderstood. So instead, I’m more concerned with being healthy rather than being happy.

I know I’ve done this before, but I feel like Google search results speak a lot so here is some more fun info again. When you Google ‘how to be happy’ you get more than 4 billion results. When you search ‘how to be healthy’? One billion. Sounds like a lot, but it’s only a quarter of what ‘how to be happy’ has. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because people have a tendency to place a priority of being happy over being healthy. And yes, I’m one of them. But hopefully not for long.

When you think about being healthy, what’s the first thing you think of? Probably your physical health. I don’t blame you. Physical health is supremely important and your wellbeing depends on it. But it’s not the only type of health you should take care of – not by a long shot. Dr. Bill Wettler came up with the Seven Dimensions of Wellness in 1976 and they include:

  • Social Wellness
  • Emotional Wellness
  • Spiritual Wellness
  • Environmental Wellness
  • Occupational Wellness
  • Intellectual Wellness
  • Physical Wellness

Yes I know, I’m going to want to push mental health, which in this case is encapsulated in Emotional and Social Wellness. But each type of wellness is important in leading a productive life – and can certainly lead to a happy life. Instead of worrying about if we’re happy, why don’t we worry about being healthy? And I’m not just talking about exercising a few times a week or meditating more. We need to attack each part of our health as if it’s important as going for a run – because oftentimes it is. My friend Pat wrote a great guest post a few months back about flexing your ‘mental muscle’ and it is indeed a muscle. A muscle that we must work at and strengthen, same as any physical muscle we have.

So yes, I would advocate for practicing being healthy over being happy. Because more often than not, if you are living in a healthy manner, in every facet of the word, happiness is sure to follow. And if it isn’t, that’s okay. I haven’t stopped trying, and I hope you won’t either.

Why I Care What People Think

If you Google the question ‘should I care what others think?’ You’ll be flooded with tons of different articles. Some consider the question, but most of the results are listicles about not caring what other people think. For some, it’s a life hack. For others, it’s a motivational technique. Lord knows the Huffington Post has done a piece or two on it.

Honestly, it’s a nice message designed to help people feel more positively about themselves. But what if you aren’t so kind to yourself? What do you do then?

I used to tell myself that it didn’t matter what people thought of me, only what I thought of myself. If someone didn’t like me? Oh well, their loss. If someone made fun of the way I looked or acted? It didn’t matter, because what they thought about me didn’t matter as much as what I thought about myself. And this philosophy carried me through most of my childhood even though I was ignoring one crucial element of my mindset – I didn’t think I was all that great.

It wasn’t a big deal at first but as my mental health worsened and my opinion of myself sunk lower every day, I contemplated why I never cared what people thought. What was my reason? I talked to some of my friends about what they thought of me as a person and – since they were my friends they might have been biased – I was told that all in all, I’m a pretty decent person. But that didn’t matter to me.

I realize this approach of not caring what people think is to combat people’s negative opinions more than their positive ones, but I don’t think that distinction is made often enough. No, you shouldn’t care what others think of you if they think negative things. But if someone thinks you’re great? That you’re a special person, and you’re perfect the way you are? Embrace that. Don’t forget those things that people say about you that are good. Because on those days when you aren’t feeling so great about yourself, when you’re struggling with self-doubt and self-worth, maybe you won’t have to only rely on what you think of yourself to get you through that difficult time.

This is very much me talking the talk when I should be walking the walk (and I’m sure my friends and family tend to agree with that), but I think that even if this isn’t always achievable, it’s still something we can strive for. So yes, you shouldn’t always care what people think. But there are people out there who think the world of you; it can’t hurt to give them a listen.

Guest Post: The Role of Community in Breaking the Stigma

This week’s post comes from Martha McLaughlin, a writer for Heroes in Recovery.

When a nation faces a public health emergency, it’s usually addressed with increased funding, prevention efforts and accessible treatment, often involving both the public and private sector.

But what happens when the disease is so stigmatized that people are afraid to get help? Breaking the stigma needs to be part of the strategy for addressing the crisis.

The United States is facing an addiction epidemic, with opioid drugs, including heroin and prescription painkillers, currently being the most problematic. The overdose death rate is at an all-time high and still climbing. Deaths attributed to opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999, and from July 2016 to September 2017, opioid-related emergency room visits increased by 30 percent.

Only a small percentage of people who need treatment for addiction receive it. One analysis of the data concluded that for every person receiving treatment in a specialty facility, 18 more who needed it went without. There are multiple reasons for the disparity, including the fact that the stigma associated with addiction may lead to a reluctance to seek help, especially among certain populations. Women report stigma as a barrier to treatment more often than men do, and married parents report it most frequently.

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Potential patients have a reason for their concern. A study of public attitudes found that survey respondents were much more likely to have negative opinions about people suffering from drug addiction than from mental illness. Study authors noted that people were more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing.

Because stigma is based on cultural messages, breaking it also requires cultural and community effort. Among the messages that need to be communicated are these:

  • Addiction is a brain disease. Drugs change both the structure and function of the brain, and, although anyone can be affected, some people are at higher risk because of genetic and other biological differences. Human behavior is involved, but that’s also often true of heart disease, diabetes and many other chronic conditions.
  • People from all walks of life can be affected. No one’s age, income level, gender, race, education or degree of professional success provides immunity.
  • Whether or not they realize it, everyone knows people who are or have been affected. Nearly 10 percent of people in the United States have experienced a drug use disorder.
  • People can and do recover. Addiction is treatable, and people go on to live healthy and productive lives.

Communities and organizations are taking on the challenge of reducing stigma in various ways.

Sussex County Community College in New Jersey, for instance, held a program open to the public called

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction” where people in long-term recovery were invited to speak. Other organizations, like Faces and Voices of Recovery, also seek to humanize the issue by giving people a place to share their stories.

Heroes in Recovery is an organization with the goal of breaking the stigma through the power of storytelling. They host a website where people can share their journeys and they sponsor races, which are 6K rather than the traditional 5K distance. That additional kilometer reflects the extra distance that people in recovery go to achieve their goals. They also host virtual races, allowing anyone to run or walk on their own time and wherever they wish. And the organization recognizes stigma-breaking leaders with its Heroes Award.

Media messages, including those on social media, are powerful, as is the choice of language. The

Office of National Drug Control Policy provides suggestions for de-stigmatizing communication. They recommend, for example, avoiding the term “drug habit” and using the term “substance use disorder” instead. When referring to people affected, “a person with a substance use disorder” is preferred to terms like “addict” and “drug abuser,” which negatively intertwine the illness with the person’s identity. Change starts with awareness, and when we pay attention to the messages we send, stigma can be reduced and lives can be saved.

Heroes in Recovery has a simple mission: to eliminate the social stigma that keeps individuals with addiction and mental health issues from seeking help, to share stories of recovery for the purpose of encouragement and inspiration, and to create an engaged sober community that empowers people to get involved, give back, and live healthy, active lives.