The Privilege of Mental Health

If you are reading this article, chances are you are reading it on your smartphone. Meaning, you have a smartphone that probably costs you a pretty penny. A few of you may be reading this on your laptops and the last 4 of you are reading it on your desktop…I’m not judging you, these are just the facts. The vast majority of people that have taken time out to have time to read for leisure are among people that have a certain amount of privilege. In today’s political climate we generally associate privilege with race. But, what is the privilege of mental health?

Abraham Maslow provided us with what’s known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It basically is a pyramid of a person’s needs, building from food and shelter being at the bottom to self-actualization at the top of the pyramid (see picture below).

Image result for maslow hierarchy

When considering three of the basic needs, shelter, food, and water are not guaranteed to some, it makes it easier to understand how some people are not privileged to sit and consider the state of their mental health; their basic needs are not being met. Yes, the absence of these needs can induce symptoms related to mental unwellness, but personally, when my stomach is growling I’m not thinking about my lack of concentration or my loss of interest in the new Fenty lip color. I’m probably only concentrating on and interested in where my next meal will come from.

As we move up the pyramid we can understand how the lack of our needs being met can trigger symptoms related to mental health diagnosis but for the person experiencing the unmet need, it could be hard for them to see how they are being negatively affected at that time.

To be in a space that allows you to ponder on deficiencies is a privilege. Like racial privilege, one must be available to consider the alternative experience in order to identify the problem and actively work to gain insight into the change process.

Research on scarcity tells us that when we experience lack in one area our brain does not intuitively work to distract us, the opposite occurs. Our brain becomes hyper-focused on what we are lacking. It’s trying to problem solve, think of ways to take away the discomfort. The problem is that most of the time our hyper-focus on the problem generally leads us to very, very short term solutions, some of those which create bigger issues long term. This becomes the cycle.

For  some, they have a support system that says, “Hey, maybe you should go talk to someone about this.” For others, most people around them are stuck in the same cycle of  trying to get their needs met; there is little room for them to notice the struggle of someone else. they are rowing in the same struggle boat together. Whatever mental health disruptions they experience then become normal because “everyone has problems.”

Consciously and sometimes unconsciously we tend to judge people and the choices they make for their life. Remember this, all (mostly all) behavior makes sense in context. We are not privy to the intimate lives of others. Instead of judging them, maybe we can seek to understand. We could be the person that helps them to gain insight into their options.

Having insight to your need is a privilege. Having a support system that gently pushes you to get help so that you can be a better more healed version of yourself is a privilege. Having the willingness to say, “I need help” is STRENGTH!

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