"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."
Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director-General of WHO
While nearly one in five Americans is living with a mental illness, two-thirds of those individuals will never seek help. Despite the pervasiveness of mental health disorders, there is still widespread stigmatization of people struggling with them, creating an obstacle to pursuing healing. Established in 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month takes place in May and encourages mental health workers across the country to raise awareness and educate the public about the effects of mental illness on individuals, on communities, and on a systemic level.
Why It’s Important
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 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 exacerbating the pain it causes for those who have.
The WHO maintains that both a lack of understanding and prejudice harm the mentally ill: “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.” People living with mental illness are also more susceptible to various physical ailments, including cardiovascular disease. As a result, Mental Health Awareness Month seeks to shine a necessary spotlight on the prevalence of mental health disorders; their impact on suffering individuals and their loved ones; and the importance of fostering understanding, compassion, and connection.
Supporting Loved Ones with Mental Health Disorders
Don’t be sad! God never gives us more than we can handle. It’s going to be okay. When one door closes, another door opens. You have so much going for you! The list goes on. Hearing such broad generalizations can often leave someone in the midst of a mental health crisis feeling unheard and invalidated. Yet it is also daunting to offer support to a loved one struggling with mental health when you are having trouble finding the words. Sometimes the best response is simply to set aside time to be present, whether over the phone, on Facetime or Zoom, or in person. Create a space where your family member or friend can be comfortable sharing as little or as much as they need. You are supporting them just by being there.
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 below for more information.
Mental Health Self-Care
One of the primary goals of Mental Health Awareness Month is encouraging mental health care as part of overall wellness. Both the mind and the body are essential to optimal functioning; neglecting one causes the other to suffer. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness or are simply riding the rollercoaster of emotions that come with living through a 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 lead to a noticeable difference in your health. 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, and see how your mood and energy levels improve!
Mental Health Resources
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) offer informative online resources on mental health education, treatment options, and most importantly, encouragement. Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect time to research, explore, and seek out support, as there are unlimited resources and events (many online during COVID-19) to help you navigate your personal mental health journey.
This was a guest blog post written by Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA. Ms. O’Crowley is a licensed clinical therapist with Clarity Clinic, LLC, a Chicago-based holistic care clinic that incorporates psychotherapy, psychiatry, hypnotherapy, nutrition, and much more into their treatment plans.