For Mental Health Awareness Month in May, we’d like to take some time to discuss the importance of mental health and ending the stigma.
Mental health is equally as important as physical health, yet there is still great stigma around seeking mental health treatment. The truth is, nearly 44 million American adults, and millions of children, experience mental health conditions each year, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress. 1 in 5 Americans will deal with mental health issues in their lifetime. For those living with mental illness, it can be very difficult to deal with the stigma and judgement of others who do not understand the experience of mental illness. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, during which we recognize those Americans who live with mental illness and substance use disorders, and we pledge solidarity with their families who need our support as well.
The Importance of Self-Care
Whether you have a clinical diagnosis or not, taking care of your mental health is an important part of taking care of yourself. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to see a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, but it does mean that everyone should think about and try safe and healthy outlets for stress and other strong emotions. This can include the experience of counseling, where you have a relationship with a therapist who is there to support you and listen, but it can also be a wide array of other things, such as journaling, exercising, spending time with a pet, or coloring. Taking care of our mental health should be a priority for all of us and self-care can be as individual and unique as all of us.
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, there are some key signs that it is time to ask for the help of a professional.
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Thoughts of harming another person
Difficulty functioning and completing day to day tasks
Long term difficulties with sleep and appetite
Worries that are intrusive and make it difficult to concentrate on anything
Difficulties with substance or alcohol use
It is never wrong or too early to seek help for yourself or someone you care about. Think of it as preventative maintenance for your brain, kind of like brushing your teeth.
Ending the Stigma
Working with a mental health professional can be incredibly helpful during highly stressful or emotional times, or even when things in your life are going well. There is no shame in taking care of yourself in this way; it is no different than visiting a doctor for an annual physical or when you start to feel ill. Encouraging others to take part in this kind of health care is an important part of ending the stigma that surrounds mental health. If someone confides in you their struggles with mental health, do your best to be supportive, non-judgmental, and loving. Know that it is not your responsibility to “fix” anyone’s problems, just as it is not your responsibility to “heal” someone when they are sick. The best thing you can do for someone struggling with mental illness is to love them, support them, and encourage them to get help.
Seeking support around grief is so important, be it in online forums, blogs, support groups, or individual counseling. Finding a safe and healthy outlet for grief helps when the surges of strong emotions come and is very important if you are predisposed to any mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.
We are lucky to have a caring team of Family Services Coordinators here at The LLF who have backgrounds in bereavement and mental health to support our donor families through the death of their loved one. We also have a Community Grief Counselor to serve and support our donor families and the community at large through the experiences of traumatic grief. Please let us know if we can help you. You can reach us at email@example.com.
If you are living with a mental illness or have a loved one who is, know that you are not alone and please consider sharing your story. The more we talk about mental health, the easier it is for those in need of help to seek it without fear of the judgment of those around them. Mental Health America currently has a campaign called #mentalillnessfeelslike for Mental Health Awareness Month, where people are sharing stories on social media of how it feels to live with mental illness. See these shared stories at: www.mentalhealthamerica.net/feelslike.