Mental health is more than being happy | Mental Health Perspectives

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Mental health isn’t just about always trying to have positive emotions; it’s about how to handle the tough ones.

I was 8 years old when my big brother tried to kill himself. It was like crossing a barrier where the ignorance of childhood was swept away and replaced by the deeper aspects of life: death, money, insecurity, drugs and the prospect of loss.

Nothing was more terrifying than not understanding what was going on. Not having the vocabulary or the words to express what I thought or felt about the situation was suffocating. It was like I was screaming, but no words came out of my mouth and no one could hear me because I didn’t know how to scream.

This experience was the beginning of what inspired me to learn more about mental health. In the years that followed, I realized that mental health care, like suicide prevention efforts, shouldn’t begin after a crisis. We don’t prepare for a disaster after it has happened. And we shouldn’t just talk about suicide or depression and illness without also teaching the basics of mental health.

Good mental health means allowing yourself to experience the ups and downs of life while understanding that there is still more to come.

The Seattle Times Mental Health Project features essays written by members of our community as part of our Mental Health Perspectives guest column. We invite people with personal stories related to mental health to share their experiences that reflect broader issues and concerns in the field. If you would like to inquire about submitting a column, please email [email protected]

Even in my own family, I’ve seen how important it is to establish a common language around mental health and keep the conversations going. These conversations were difficult because of my parents’ cultural differences. My mother was born and raised in Japan, and my father was born in England into a military family. Neither has openly discussed mental health in their family. Additionally, members of my family have struggled with substance abuse, which created a long-lasting impact on our interactions.

Being able to recognize differences in conversation and learning to communicate better allowed me to extend grace to my family as we moved forward.

Seven years after my brother’s suicide attempt, I started my first nonprofit focused on suicide prevention, mental health awareness, and policy change.

The organization consisted of six other members, each of whom were good friends from Issaquah High School. We called our team “ArchNova”, a combination of Latin and Greek roots meaning “New Beginnings”. Our goal was to bring a fresh start to the way people talk about mental health.

Between 2017 and 2020, my team and I worked with legislators in Olympia on two bills. The one that passed was on student suicide prevention. Through HB 1221, Washington has created School Safety Centers that help assess physical, emotional, and mental stressors for students, teachers, and staff.

After three years of co-directing “ArchNova”, I came across the concept of Mental Health America’s B4Stage4 (Before Stage Four). It’s an awareness campaign that addresses mental health before a suicide happens. Although suicide isn’t always 100% preventable, there are ways to teach people how to deal with their emotions.

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Today, I see mental health as a way we interact with our lives. It is a question of state of mind and well-being. We are human and the circumstances that life brings will not always be ideal. We are not meant to be perfect. The struggle is inevitable.

I now lead an independent global research initiative that aims to uncover how mental health is defined in different cultures and backgrounds. Throughout my research, I have spoken to people from over 10 countries. From Malaysia, Nigeria, Northern Cyprus and all over the United States, I discovered that people are not just looking for happiness; but rather looking for how to love and support the people around them, and how to find love and support themselves.

Learning to approach mental health as an essential part of well-being can help us support the people we love. By learning to take care of our own mental health, we can endure life’s trials and support loved ones who may be struggling.

Our illnesses and mental health issues are not things to be ashamed of when we, as a society, can finally learn to normalize and prioritize these struggles as part of everyday life.

Seika Brown is a 20-year-old researcher and mental health advocate from Issaquah. She attends Cornell University and founded a global research initiative to uncover how mental health is defined across cultures and backgrounds.

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