Mental illness is not a personal failure. In fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental and brain disorders.
While nearly one in five Americans is living with a mental illness, ⅔ of those individuals will never seek help. Despite its pervasiveness, there is still widespread stigmatization of those struggling with mental health disorders.
Started in 1949, Mental health awareness month, which takes place throughout the month of May, enlists the help of mental health crusaders across the country to raise awareness and educate the public about the effects of mental illness on an individual, community, and systemic level.
1- Why It’s Important.
According to the World Health Organization, 16% of global disease for individuals aged 10-24 is attributable to mental health conditions, with 50% of mental health conditions beginning by the age of 14. Mental health disorders, while pervasive and even debilitating, are often invisible to the naked eye, however.
The symptoms and the scars they leave behind are hidden within the mind and the body, making mental illness incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it and all the more exacerbating for those who have. People living with mental illness are also more susceptible to physical ailments including cardiovascular disease.
The World Health Organization maintains, “Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders. Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect.” Thus, Mental health awareness month seeks to place a needed spotlight on the omnipresence of mental health disorders, their impact on the individuals and their loved ones, and the importance of fostering understanding, compassion, and connection.
2- Supporting loved ones with mental health disorders
“Don’t be sad!,” “God never gives us more than we can handle,” “It is going to be okay,” “When one door closes another door opens,” “You have so much going for you,” and the list goes on. I am confident that most if not all of us have heard one of these broad generalizations from a family member or friend and have likely felt a bit invalidated.
For those who want to offer their support but struggle to find the words, it can also feel daunting. A good jumping off point is simply to set aside time to be with them, whether over the phone, on facetime, or in person. Create a space where they feel comfortable sharing as little or as much as they need. You are supporting them just by being there for them. When they choose to share, avoid disputing their feelings, calling into question their personal experiences, or diagnosing them.
Reflecting their feelings rather than offering solutions or opinions can be much more validating. If you feel comfortable enough and it seems as though your loved one would be open to the idea, you might even consider offering to help in finding resources or support. See #4 below for more information!
3- Mental health self-care
One of the primary efforts behind Mental Health Awareness Month is to encourage mental health care as part of overall wellness. Both the mind and the body are essential to function at an optimal level. When you neglect one, the other will also suffer.
Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental illness or are simply riding the rollercoaster of emotions as a result of the pandemic, establishing a self-care routine is a relatively simple way to, well, care for yourself. Whether you like to read, journal, take walks, listen to music, cook, meditate, or lay in bed with a good netflix show, setting aside time every day to unwind and recoup can make a huge difference.
Try compiling a self-care list and pick one item from the list to incorporate once a day or even just a few times a week depending on your schedule and see how your mood and energy levels improve!
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, finding support can sometimes feel intimidating. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are great online resources that provide mental health education, treatment options, and most importantly, encouragement.
Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect time to research, explore, or seek out support, as there are unlimited resources and events (many online during COVID) to help you navigate your personal mental health journey.