The sad truth is even today as society slowly becomes more accepting of mental health and mental illness (yes, they are different), mental health is still viewed as inferior and less important than physical health. Oftentimes, mental illness is viewed as acceptable when the media labels certain individuals with severe mental disorders or when mental illness is joked about or misrepresented. Many times, the symptoms of mental illnesses are severely exaggerated which can further serve to perpetuate the stigmas associated with mental illness. Stigmas serve to create distance and embed a ‘them and us’ belief and attitude. However, the plain truth is that most of us know at least one person who has suffered from mental illness.
Focusing on stigmas to devalue mental health strengthens the views that only physical health matters. Physical health is, of course, important. Physical health is affected by lifestyle, biology, environment, socio-economic status, and access to healthcare services. Having an optimally functioning body affords us many luxuries; things, we take for granted sometimes, like walking, seeing, dancing, exercising and movement, access to healthcare, access to necessary medications, and access to food, especially healthy food.
But, the thing we overlook is that physical health and mental health are not exclusive of each other. A common example is stress eating. Stress eating is a coping mechanism that is used by many people. Continuous stress eating decreases physical health by increasing blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and a host of other physical issues. However, stress eating also has mental health components as this coping mechanism can be viewed as avoidance of dealing with emotions and stressors, and this contributes to poor mental health as emotion regulation decreases, negative emotions may increase after the emotional eating has passed, and this may also contribute to the development of mental illnesses, such as eating disorders.