What Is The Mental Health Horizon?

This post is not a tip as such, but more of an explanation.

I recently wrote an article that was published on the amazing, digital health platform, The Mighty. In the post, I mentioned the term ‘The Mental Health Horizon’, and now wish to give some explanation of what exactly was meant by it. Language is important, particularly in regards to mental health. It can be inclusive or exclusive, helpful or harmful. I believe the term ‘Mental Health Horizon’ can both be inclusive and helpful in our understanding of these conditions, and can help capture the nuances of depression, anxiety and OCD. I hope you agree.

Black holes remain one of science’s greatest mysteries. Their almost inescapable gravitational field slowly sucks in every kind of matter and life around them, consuming all that crosses their path, unravelling and bending the very fabric of space-time. I’ve always found black holes to be a good metaphor for depression; the near crushing feeling of lowness, the difficulty in getting away once it has you in its grasp, the feeling of nothing. But one physical aspect of black holes is particularly prominent; the event horizon. The event horizon of a black hole is the ‘point of no return’, the boundary surrounding it at which the gravitational pull is so large that no object can fight it’s fate of being sucked in.

Depression also has such an ‘event horizon’, what I call; ‘The Mental Health Horizon’. ‘The Mental Health Horizon’ is the point at which a person becomes diagnosably depressed, anxious or OCD. The phrase ‘Mental Health Horizon’ is useful to the extent that it gives us an accurate way of describing a difference in stages in the development of a mental health problem. Rather than stating that an individual is either depressed, anxious or we should treat them as though they were healthy, we can say that they haven’t crossed the ‘Mental Health Horizon’ yet, but they are still in need of help. This terminology allows us to view mental health as a scale, upon which there are many individuals at various points on that scale.

For instance, there are many who exist on the cusp of the ‘Mental Health Horizon’; people that have occasional panic attacks but not Generalised Anxiety Disorder, people that display low moods but who don’t have full-force depression. Yet, as mentioned in my previous article, often these individuals are left out of discussions, or even blocked from treatment. Mental health problems often don’t arrive suddenly, but rather leave a trail of early signs and clues; if we learn how to recognise these warnings, it can help in stopping us from crossing the ‘Mental Health Horizon’ and falling prey to the black hole.

The phrasing we use when we talk about mental health is vital; language can either be inclusive or exclusive. Using rather binary, blanket phrases such as ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ based on diagnosis can of course be useful to us, but they also fail to capture the nuance of each individual’s condition. As every person has a unique mind, it follows that every person will experience their mental health problems slightly differently. Therefore, some people will fall short of meeting the criteria to be clinically depressed or anxious, whilst still suffering from the symptoms. We need to introduce new terminology that can capture all these different kinds of experiences, and I believe that begins with the ‘Mental Health Horizon’.

Using this phrases captures the idea that there are two types of people with mental health issues; those who have passed the horizon, and those that are in danger of falling in. Both require, and deserve, help and assistance. This is because of the problem with the ‘Mental Health Horizon’; once crossed, the problems are even more difficult to fix. Prevention is always far easier than treatment. This makes it imperative to help people and intervene before their illness transitions into a more serious form, as well as continuing to help those who have already been diagnosed.

Going back to black holes, there is one hopeful message to be taken from the analogy; we are not planets, and mental health problems aren’t really huge gravitational reality-hoovers. There is always a way out for us, back over the event horizon, towards hope.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts on this issue!

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