Terms to use, terms to avoid.

As I was taking to my Counselor last week, every time I went to say the words, “Mental Health” I found myself pausing for a moment before saying it. Thinking about it as I was still in our session, I realised I was trying to find a word or phrase to go in it’s place. I could think of nothing.

And then I began to think, why should there be an alternative phrase? Why did I want one?

Every time I thought of the word, “Mental” my mind ran through so many distant connotations of the word from my youth. I am 50 years of age, and in the 80’s, when I was a teenager, if someone was “Mental” it meant all sorts of things, from anger to lunacy.

In the 80’s there were too many meanings to the word “Mental.”

Today talking about one’s mental health is a positive thing. I think the problem is – or was, depending on your age – that no one really addressed Mental Health in the 1980’s in the same way as they do today. At least, I don’t think my Dad, who was in his late 30s and 40’s during the 1980’s would ever have thought it necessary to go to talk to someone about his mental health. I can hear him now saying something along the lines of, “Are you saying I’m Mental? There’s nothing wrong with me!” and so on.

My parents are on my mind a lot at the present time, as they self-isolate an hour away from me in another county. I’m not worried about them, but I miss seeing them, despite not seeing much of them when we are not locked down.

But back in his mid 20’s, my father went through a trauma that not many people go through. He lost an eye. He had been at a barbecue at a friend’s house and someone had set off a firework on it’s side. It flew horizontally like a proverbial rocket across the area where everyone was and hit him full in the left hand side of his face. The force blew the eye right out of its socket and cut his face quite badly. As a result, he lost more than just his eye. He has recently gained his pilot’s license and was considering making flying, his dream job, into a full career. After leaving the hospital weeks after the accident, his license was revoked. In the 1960’s you were not allowed to fly with one eye, your depth perception being an important requirement.

Today there would be counselling post the trauma of such an event. Weeks of talking to about your feelings. My dad was back at his family’s farm and wondering what he would do. He had lost everything and had no way of getting it back. You can’t grow back an eye. How does someone get over that kind of thing without counselling?

He did, though. He had family who helped him, people whom he could talk to, share his pain and frustration and they helped him back on his feet. A cousin who was also on of his best friends took him under his wing and brought him into his business as a market trader. My father worked with him for a while, then moved away and started his own stall, moved on to other markets and thrived. And he stayed strong. He kept going.

He’s still with us, 84 and going strong. My Mum’s with him too. They are still as in love as they were 52 years ago when they were married. Two stronger people, I have never met. Each is the rock of the other. They are amazing.

I still cannot imagine my father ever talking to anyone about his mental health, not that I think he needs to.

Anyway, towards the end of my session, I still was trying to find another term for my, you know, mental health. I ended up voicing my thoughts about the words to my Counselor. I think I was quite loquacious about the use of the words “Mental” in my teens. I stopped talking and after a moment or two of silence, my Counselor said this.

“…if it helps, try to see this as Emotional Health or Emotional Support.”

I paused, taking this in. “Emotional Support” is a far nicer term. It might not have the ring of “Mental Health” but the connotation of “Emotional Support” is very singular and has no negative connections from my teens.

I was thinking about my father this morning. I was also playing the conversation with my counselor through my mind and as thoughts swam together I realised that my father did get the counselling he needed back then, thanks to emotional support from his family, his friends. People close to him who were there for him, to guide him, hold him up when he needed it. It may not have come from a trained professional, but it was there. Emotional Support. Improving his mental health in small amounts every day, whether he realised it or not.

Times are hard right now. If you know someone who is struggling with the solitude and has anxiety issues, someone who has no one whom they can talk to with them, please reach out to them. Let them know that you are there. That you can provide a little emotional support. Even just a little helps.

Remember each call, each chat, each message, each drop of help amounts to a lake of support in the long run.

Stay Safe and smile a little every day.

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