Reflections on Mental Health and Introversion: What’s the Connection?

This photo,
This photo, “A man’s life,” is copyright Seif Alaya 2015 and made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a little while but felt nervous to put my thoughts on paper, er, screen. Mental health and mental illness are topics that fascinate and overwhelm me and I’m no expert on them (though I’ve written my fair share of sociology papers on mental health for my undergrad, for the record!). But from my experience with friends and family and just going through the regular highs and lows of everyday life, I have observed certain ways that being an introvert can affect one’s mental health.

This is not to say that introverts are more likely to have worse mental health; it is only an observation of how mental health can play out differently for people on the introverted side of the scale compared to more extroverted folks.

So, here are three ways that introversion and mental health collide.

1. Introversion can get mistaken for poor mental health, which can be hurtful!

A lot of people don’t know what to think about the kid who’d prefer to play in the sandbox by himself rather than with his classmates. This confusion can continue on to young adulthood, when peers and older adults may worry that the quieter folk among them are in a bad space mentally because they’re not into the same things as others. Personally, I think it is good and important to check in with people. But a point comes when you have to realize that some people just don’t like parties or don’t like to talk much. I’ve definitely felt hurt before by the assumption that I’m not ‘healthy’ because of my introverted personality traits. That’s got to stop.

2. Introverts’ desires for deep connections can result in loneliness and depression.

In a culture that believes in “the more, the merrier” when it comes to friendships, keeping a lot of casual acquaintances can feel like the norm.  But introverts often long for something deeper, and that can be hard for anyone to find. Not only do introverts often want really strong relationships, they also may find the standard small talk of everyday life meaningless. This reality can result in some poor mental health.

It’s like this: extroverts are more frequently looking for fireworks in their relationships—loud and fast-paced activity—while introverts enjoy slow and relaxed sunsets. Both are nice and fun in their own right, but if you go out every night looking for the sunset and it keeps getting overpowered by fireworks, you’re bound to get more than a little put off. I’ve provided some tips for making friends in previous posts, but sometimes you can get so far down that you need a little bit more than internet advice. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Not everyone understands what it means to be an introvert, making it hard to get good help.

This is like the inverse of my first point. What can you do when you are experiencing mental health concerns as an introvert? Of course, reaching out for help can be tough for anyone, but for introverts there can be the specific problem of the person in need of help feeling like the people around them really, really don’t understand.

Whether you’re experiencing depression or anxiety or another mental illness, it’s important for you to feel confident in knowing that your introversion isn’t the problem or a side effect of the problem. People may try to make you feel like you’d be happier if only you were more outgoing or more this or that—but whatever you’re going through, it’s not your fault. Luckily the whole introvert/extrovert scale is more understood by the medical profession and the general public than before, so it is possible to get help from people who understand—though it can still be a struggle.

These are only my observations on the connections between mental health and introversion, and I would love, love to hear about your experiences and opinions in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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