Mental Health is a Vital Aspect of our Human Experience

Mental Health is a Vital Aspect of our Human Experience

Sonia Medina Pranger, LCSW, PPSC, Assistant Professor, Social Work TUG Program Director 

When it comes to mental health, many people associate it with signs of weakness. Culturally, as a first-generation Latina born in the U.S., I was raised to be “headstrong” to be successful. I believe this value was related to my family’s experiences with oppression and prejudice. That was what they needed to survive the harsh realities of assimilation, coming to the U.S. poor and without knowing the English language. I observed countless incidents where the family failed to acknowledge dysfunction and mental health illness. As a college student, I decided to enter the social work field because I wanted to help people realize their potential. Little did I know, I would uncover a myriad of maladaptive responses to my mental health.

In my personal and professional life, I pushed my mind and body, telling myself I would recover and rest later. I took pride in being able to multi-task and carry heavy loads of stressors, until one day I could not any longer—the headstrong mentality and the drive to excel resulted in my body shutting down. I am a mental health professional, yet I somehow allowed this to happen, despite knowing the signs and symptoms. Though I knew the physical and psychological implications of an anxiety disorder, I could not fully understand it until I went through it. I felt the blow of mental health stigma, not wanting others to know, for fear they would see me as weak. I experienced the sense of despair that comes with relinquishing control and wondering if I will ever get better. Perhaps I did not believe it could happen to me.

What have I learned from this? Although I never want this to happen again, I am thankful that it did. As a person of faith, I realized that I relied on my strength rather than relying on God. I realized I attempted to control every aspect of my life rather than allowing God to have control. I also discovered I was setting a bad example to young Latinas, the very people I set out to encourage and inspire. I relayed a false image of having and doing it all, being headstrong and plowing ahead, ignoring my mind’s and body’s signals. One of the most important things I learned was greater empathy for clients I serve and people I encounter who are struggling with mental illness.

The Bible states in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I see this challenge of managing a mental health illness as another life circumstance where God has truly worked it out for my good. I believe it is also for the good of others that I will encounter who may need to know that we are all susceptible to mental health challenges.

Mental health is a vital aspect of our human experience. I encourage you to listen to your mind and body’s signals, search for cultural roots and exchanges that may give you false narratives about mental health, and connect with trusted people in your support networks.

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