The economic and social situation we are living may well be described as using the saying: “to jump out of the frying pan into the fire”; the truth is that for more than two years now we have been from one complex situation to another and it’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. This concatenation of “bad news” started with the pandemic caused by Covid-19, which was followed by some tough days with the images pouring in from the Ukraine and, to make things worse, now we’re heading into a long period of lean times, or that’s what we hear in the news when we’re told of the economic or energy crises.
And what happens without mental health? There’s no question that bad news lead to concern and, in large quantities, this can generate stress. And this is the starting point that may lead to greater levels of anxiety and rage which, if they go on in time, can lead to a feeling of emotional distress and exhaustion that may end up in a depression. In fact, many studies point at stress as a risk factor for developing a mental disorder.
When it comes to taking care of our mental health, it is interesting to understand that certain practices can help us to “look after ourselves” and others to “neglect our needs”. In the field of mental health, this is what is known as risk factors, such as using drugs, the loss of purchasing power, losing one’s job, despair or uncertainty (among many others); and then there are protective factors, such as having a strong network of family and friends, wellbeing, self-esteem…
Now we are living in times of great uncertainty, salaries that make it difficult to make ends meet, and increased household expenses with little hope for the future. So, what can we do to take care of our mental health if risk factors are so overwhelmingly obvious? Starting from this question, and on the International day of mental health, at the association TALMA we have come up with a campaign called “distress; is it good or bad?” The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness on the importance of accepting our emotions and feelings to work on them better. Who says an emotion is good or bad? In a given situation, people can react very differently based on their lived experiences or personal circumstances.
Tough times lie ahead. But we must remember that distress does not define who we are, it defines a temporary feeling or situation we are living. However, if we become overwhelmed by uncertainty or this distress goes on in time, then we need to take action and seek help from a professional. This is why it’s so important to learn to listen to our emotions and not fight them. As our campaign goes, “all emotions are valid and if we try to understand our emotions we will experience them better”.
To conclude, is there anything positive we can learn from all this? There is, and as Javier Padilla and Marta Carmona tell us in their book Malestamos: cuando estar mal es un problema colectivo (Unrest: when feeling bad becomes a collective problem), it is a mistake to believe that the way out of this distress caused by the circumstances we are living is up to us as individuals. On the one hand, it may be as doing personal work on our emotions is important; however, on the other hand, our success as society in the fields of people’s rights, work, freedoms and a functional democracy (among others) will make us think of a future that is better than what we think it will be now.