What Is Mental Health?: Editor’s Letter and TOC

Lydia Moran

As we continue to advance conversations and awareness around “mental health,” there is a danger of watering down the term without a clear understanding of what it really means. So I want to start by sharing how I conceptualized this issue’s theme, and how I believe the stories that emerged serve to create new understandings.

The Minnesota Department of Health offers a distinction between mental health and mental illness, which are not opposite. It is possible to have poor mental health and no mental illness, which is defined as “languishing,” e.g., “socially isolated, feeling disempowered, no sense of purpose, unemployment, high stressors [including] poor housing and poverty.” It is also possible to have a mental illness and good mental health, meaning one’s symptoms are properly managed, and one has a “strong support system, life satisfaction and purpose, home, employment, sense of empowerment, and positive identity.”

This is to say that it is important to acknowledge how mental health is inextricable from our environments and life circumstances, which are made up of socially and politically created conditions. In this issue, Dr. Catherine Squires and Dr. Taiyon Coleman do this by sharing their experiences of being sidelined throughout their careers in academia in a process of “racial weathering,” leading to deteriorated mental and physical health.

Amy Gage reports on how a chronic health condition — one that mostly affects women and is, not surprisingly, underfunded in the world of scientific research — can make people feel powerless and isolated.

Existing mental illness can also be exacerbated by the inability to get care, which is happening now in our state, particularly with youth in crisis. Mikki Morrissette reports, “With limited places to go, youth are stuck in emergency rooms, juvenile detention centers, and county facilities — or sent out of state.”

Looking back at our coverage from the past 39 years of Minnesota Women’s Press, I was struck by how stories from the 1980s conceptualized women’s poor mental health. It was considered a symptom of patriarchy held up by a mental health care system full of patronizing doctors who furthered patriarchal aims. We have made progress since then in stigma reduction and diversity of providers and treatment options, but this magazine shows how we still have a long way to go.

A Personal Farewell

I started my journey with Minnesota Women’s Press in the summer of 2019 as a 23-year-old “under 30 editor” for a special issue. Since then, I’ve moved into the role of co-editor. For the last few years, Publisher Mikki Morrissette and I have traded off leading every other issue. This one will be my last.

It is a blessing to be part of this community. The storytellers — and incredible staff — I have had the privilege of working with have granted me wisdom I will carry as I embark on my next chapter and beyond. Namely, how life’s serendipity often can’t fit into a neat narrative, and that’s okay; how resilience can take many forms; and, above all, the magic of telling stories, which I plan to devote the rest of my life to. Thank you for reading.

Table of Contents

Trauma & Healing — A Conversation About Black Women’s Mental Health and Academia

Greater Minnesota — Suicide Has Become an Epidemic in Rural Minnesota — How Can we Prevent Further Loss?

Family — View From Inside the Mental Health Crisis

Health — Chronic UTI Sufferers Seek to End Pain and Shame

Camp & Kids — “Outdoor Learning Is Going to Save the World”

Tapestry: Five voices answer the question “Mental Well-Being Is… “

Travel — A Long View of Life on Superior’s South Shore

Special Section — Readers Recommend


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