Why We Shouldn’t Depend on the Gym for Mental Health

My brand of mental health leans heavily on Stoic philosophy and mindset. I think, from an early age, I learned that from my father, and as an adult it’s something I’ve learned about myself and began to understand more in depth.

My main point has always been that mental health, is first and foremost, a personal responsibility. I’m not sure people enjoy hearing that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. You are responsible for maintaining your mental health, the same way you are for your physical health. I’m not sure that all of us understand what that really requires though.

To be responsible for your mental health, you must be disciplined. In the same way that you work-out every day to maintain your physique, you must also do some things everyday to maintain your mental health.

Most of these things aren’t entirely difficult. In fact, the reason a lot of us fail to do them everyday is because they can be monotonous and repetitive. They’re things like drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, exercising, socialising etc. They’re not the most glamourous, but these things really do impact your well-being.

On Twitter this week I saw a lot of people cite mental health as a reason why the gyms need to stay open. The idea is that gyms are essential to maintaining mental health, and that some people’s mental health will deteriorate rapidly without them. It’s a worrying thought.

Of course, people use gyms in order to exercise and socialise, and these things are important for mental health. However, both these things can be done, and are done, outside of gyms. I myself have been working out most days since the last time I was in a gym, on March 13th. Gyms are convenient places to exercise, but in terms of exercising for the mental benefits, they are by no means essential.

The reason I think saying things like ‘gyms are essential for mental health’ is problematic is because it takes away the personal responsibility aspect of mental health. Implying that our well-being will fall away as a result of gyms being closed suggests that we don’t intend to maintain our mental health if we don’t have access to gyms.

We need multiple tools and outlets for good mental health. If we depend too heavily on any one outlet, we’ll find ourself in trouble when, or if, it is taken away. Just like single-crop dependent societies starve during a famine, our mental health will suffer if our only outlet is taken from us.

I’m not suggesting here, by the way, that gyms are bad. Of course not. Gyms not only supply a living for people, they’re also convenient for maintaining all aspects of our health. But they are not essential for any aspect of our health.

Our mindset and level of personal responsibility is what is essential. If you are no longer exercising because gyms have closed, then that’s on you. It’s not the fault of the gyms that are closed.

In a broader sense, our mental health is our responsibility. If we’re experiencing issues, but are not being disciplined with our mental health routines, we’re doing ourselves no favours. If we are maintaining a good routine, and are still experiencing issues, then we must seek the help we need.

What irked me about the gym/mental health discourse is how little genuine mental health facilities came into the conversation. A lot of people were up in arms over the gyms being closed. Very few of us cited one-on-one counselling services as essential, for example.

This is mainly because more of use gyms than use counselling, and so we only focused on what affected us directly. We tend not to concern ourself with issues until they become an issue for ourselves. That’s a wider problem in society.

Mental health shouldn’t be something you only care about when it’s your own being personally affected. You should care about our collective mental health. The next time you find yourself furious about the gyms being closed, ask yourself why you’re not furious about the generally poor mental health services in this country.

Drink water,

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