I’m an extroverted clinical psychotherapist who loves drinking a cold beer on a hot day while playing cornhole. In most social situations where people get together and small talk is the norm, surface level questions and conversations about socially acceptable topics are encouraged.
Nowadays, mental illness has become one of those socially acceptable topics! Hooray! Finally, science has proven that mental illness isn’t just all in our heads. Pun intended. So, as you might imagine, if I’m at a social gathering where there is beer drinking and cornhole playing, people often want to go beyond surface level and talk about mental health with me.
I LOVE this. It only adds to my enjoyment of beer drinking and cornhole playing. I’m never not up for a good chat about mental health. Bring it on. Bring. It. ON.
“Nikki, I have a friend who…My son struggles with…My mom was always… My husband … Is it normal when…What should I do about…?” Etc.
They want someone to listen. I can do that.
They want advice. I will not do that.
They want someone to tell them that everything is going to be OK. That I can NOT do.
Because if someone feels the need to unload their thoughts and feelings about themselves or loved one to a relative stranger while that stranger is drinking beer and playing cornhole, even if that stranger is a licensed clinical professional counselor with a couple decades of experience, everything is definitely NOT OK.
The stigma surrounding mental health is slowly and steadily decreasing. People are starting to talk openly and unapologetically about their experiences with mental illness. It is difficult to put our vulnerabilities out there, but as more and more brave, humble and genuine people are taking the risk, we are seeing that talking about mental illness is the rule rather than the exception.
Yet, when it comes to mental health treatment, many are still hesitant to take action. This hesitancy is often fueled by the same stigma that kept them from talking about mental illness for so long.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Awareness is passive. Action is active! Can I call May Mental Health ACTION Month? Who is in charge of assigning these things to specific months anyway? I don’t care if I get in trouble for doing this. Well-behaved women rarely make history.
If your gut guided you toward this article about mental health, either because something doesn’t seem right with your loved one (or yourself), and you want to take action but the only action you can think of is to approach a beer-chugging, cornhole-playing therapist at a social gathering and initiating a conversation about mental health, I encourage you to do it. I hope that therapist is me. If it isn’t, please take ACTION this month and talk with your medical doctor, your family and your friends about mental health. Make it as much of a priority as your physical health.
As a society, we have a long way to go, but we have to start somewhere. Lao Tzu, said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Or in this case, one single conversation.
Nicole K. Knepper of Naperville is a clinical psychotherapist and gerontologist at Ride The Wave Wellness and author of the hugely popular book, Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind. She is the mom of two amazing kids.
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This article originally appeared in Chicago Parent’s May 2020 magazine. Read the rest of the issue here.