What Mental Health Has to Do With Your Identity

Jordan Brown

You have an identity, right?

You have what you think of yourself.

And you carry that precious identity for as long as it suits you.

But is that it?

Is that the only factor that impacts your identity?

No, there are other factors.

In this short issue, we’re going to explore what I mean.

It's Not Only About What You Think

A big part of mental health is the identity that you create for yourself.

Your identity can bolster you when you feel weak. It can help you manage uncomfortable situations. It can even make you happy when you think about it in the privacy of your own head er, I mean, home.

But you can only do so much when creating your identity. If you wish to have any public life whatsoever, other people are also part of your identity-creating process. And you will not always agree with what they have to say.

Take this for example. I might be having an identity crisis.

I consider myself a mental health advocate. But what does that mean? Does it mean that I’m an advocate because I call myself that? Don’t I have to back up what I say with action? Even if I do that, am I still a mental health advocate? What if others don’t consider me an advocate? How much weight should I give to their words?

And I’m just getting started…

For me to be an advocate, don’t there have to be others for whom I advocate? Doesn’t that put me in a position of power over them? Am I upholding a power structure that hurts certain people in the long run? I don’t like that thought!

You can see how messy this can get. And fast.

How to Create An Identity

That scary thought experiment aside, we’re still left with the meaning of identity, both for you and for me.

It doesn’t seem like identities are going away anytime soon. So what are we supposed to do about this in the meantime?

Here’s my humble suggestion.

You, first and foremost, get to choose your own identity, but you do so with the tacit acknowledgment that any person, at any time, can come by and disrupt your understanding yourself.

It doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. It’s simply the acceptance of this fragile and uncertain world we live in. But you get to have the first shot at your identity.

Next, you must remember your context.

You must think about how your identity is affected by your relationships and by environmental and cultural factors. Failing to realize this is a failure to understand part of your identity.

For some people, this is not to be accepted. They don’t want to believe that something such as their environment can dictate who they are. That’s fine, but it’s still there in the background.

Finally, deep down, you must also remember this.

You are you. You have the power, even if it’s only in subtle ways at first, to shift your context and shift your identity. Even if it’s only in your mind to start. Even if you initially feel you can’t really change.

Your identity is a malleable thing.

It may change from year to year–or even from month to month.

But that’s up to you.

It’s always, at the heart of it, up to you.