“I don’t need to get a check-up, it’s not like I’ve had a heart attack.” “In our family we don’t talk about colds or the flu.” “I heard she’s going… to the allergist.” 

Imagine if we treated physical health the way society still treats mental health — sharing whispered concerns when a friend makes a simple trip to the dermatologist, waiting until we’re in crisis to see a general physician, or encouraging family members to put illness out of their mind and power through it.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine, so why are we still okay with acting like our mental health is an afterthought? We’d never wait until we’re showing symptoms of a fatal disease to see a physician, so why do we often wait until we’re deep in depression to visit a therapist?

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act and a shift in the cultural conversation, we’ve embraced preventative care in the caring of our physical bodies, prioritizing immunizations, screenings, yearly check-ups, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Statistics show us that preventive care has a direct impact on health and longevity.  

It’s time we take the same approach to mental health.

With early intervention, a preventative approach, and an attitude of pride toward taking care of our mental health, we can completely revolutionize our antiquated system. 

We’ve seen this year just what happens when we don’t have the tools and cultural conversation in place to empower people to take care of their mental health. A CDC study published this month shows a significant spike in Americans exhibiting symptoms of anxiety disorder (25.5% this year vs. 8.1% in 2019) and depressive disorder (24.3% this year vs. 6.5% in 2019) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and everything that comes with it.

From mask-wearing to maintaining distances and keeping up hygienic practices, we’re giving people guidelines on how to take care of their physical health, but little support on taking steps to maintain their mental health. 

It’s frankly no longer acceptable. In the same way we get a yearly check-up to take our vitals, prioritize exercise to ensure a healthy body, and look for any early indicators of bigger issues, we need to take mental health vitals on a regular basis, taking stock of facets of our lives including sleep, mood, relationships, and purpose. It is no longer okay to wait until you’ve hit rock bottom to do something about your mood, thoughts, and sense of well-being. It’s time to empower you to check in each month, and take active steps to improve your mental health. 

While working to remove the stigma that somehow still surrounds mental health is a great first step, we need to go even further. It’s time we celebrate therapy, wearing the actions we take to take care of our minds with the same amount of pride that we do running a 5k, quitting smoking, or maintaining a healthy diet. 

At Real, where I serve as Chief Medical Officer, we’re doing just that. We’re giving our members clinically backed tools and goal-oriented therapy Pathways to proactively take care of their mental health — in a format that fits into their life. We’re innovating on an antiquated system to provide first-of-its-kind care that focuses on where you are now and where you want to go, always striving for improved mental health rather than crisis management. And we’re doing it at a truly accessible price point, because everyone deserves to feel even just a little bit better.

Taking care of your mental health is more than normal. It’s critical. It’s essential. And it’s something to be proud of. Let’s start acting like it.