Did you know May is Mental Health Month?  May is designated to highlight the discussion of mental health and helping fight stigma.   The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that over 43 million adults live with a mental illness every year – that is approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States.  This means that you know many people who are struggling with mental health issues.  If you are in a helping profession you are likely encountering many individuals whose mental health is affecting their day to day life.

What can you do to promote mental health awareness and your own mental health?

mental health awareness

  • Talk about mental health issues. Secrecy can breed shame and there is nothing shameful about mental illness.  Talk about your stories and talk about how you take care of your own mental health.   Mental Health America this month encouraged individuals to tweet about their own mental health experience (#mentalillnessfeelslike) – Check it out.
  • Consider the language you use every day.  I actually struggle with this one.  I would always use the word “crazy” to describe situations.  With clients, I’ve learned to use the word symptomatic when discussing behaviors or their symptoms.    I still struggle when trying to describe other types of situations so I’m often testing out words other than crazy in my everyday life!
  • While considering your language – remember that individuals who have a mental illness are not just their diagnosis.   Don’t say someone is schizophrenic – say he has a diagnosis of schizophrenia or is living with schizophrenia.
  • Consider downloading and using mental health apps that are available for your phone and tablets. There is an abundance of free and low cost  apps out there.  Go on a search and see if you find any that fit you. One comprehensive list of mental health apps is //www.zurinstitute.com/mentalhealthapps_resources.html.  This list is broken down into every area you can think of including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, weight control,  anxiety, children and much more.
  • Advocate for mental health services. You may not be on the street protesting but there are a lot of little ways to advocate for mental health services.  You still can sign a petition or vote for individuals who support mental health.  Mental Health America states there is 1 mental health provider for 790 adults.   I supervise a team that helps individuals successfully transition back to the community.  Anecdotally,  I know when we try to find individual’s psychiatrists in the community, that the first available appointment is often several months from the time the person needs it.  Talk to your insurance company and local businesses about making sure to have mental health resources available.    Encourage Tele-psych andTele-counseling for individuals who are unable to find or get to traditional services.  When you see an opportunity – speak up and have your opinion known.
  • Take Care of your own mental health.   When you are caring for your own mental health you generally feel better and more confident and you are able to help those you love and those you come across live better also.  Below are some ways to help your own mental health.
    1. Try therapy and counseling. Therapy and Counseling is not just for individuals with severe mental illness or someone going through a severe trauma – although it can certainly help in those situations.  Therapy can help you focus on next steps in your life.  It is undivided attention from someone who is showing you unconditional, positive regard.  Therapy can make your life clearer and more full.  It can help motivate you  or help you work through little things before they become big things.  Sometimes therapy offers validation that you may not be able to get from family or friends.  If you plan on being a therapist yourself, I would strongly encourage you to participate in your own therapy.  I have seen great therapist debates about if therapy is necessary to being a good therapist.  I believe only ones self can answer that.  However, I know I am a much better therapist because I engaged in therapy.  (I also think I am living a happier life!)
    2. Get enough sleep. Our bodies need to rejuvenate.  We need enough sleep and my guess is 5 hours each night doesn’t cut it.
    3. Have something to look forward to. I actually end most of my sessions with clients with the question  “what are you looking forward to?”  Answers vary from something they are doing today to future events to broad plans.  Make sure to have things to look forward to.  I try to have some type of trip planned all the time so I can spend time making plans and getting excited.  You don’t need to be elaborate but plan activities for the future.  It can be planning a road trip someday or spending a day at the museum.  Whatever it is, find activities you can do to get ready for your adventure.
    4. Have a day (or even a few hours) where you just read or catch up on TV shows. Give yourself permission to do nothing.
    5. Laugh and enjoy the relationships in your life.
    6. Add your own. Look back on when you feel relaxed.  Is it a warm bath or a hike outside?  Is it playing the piano or dancing to music or praying?  Whatever it is that brings you peace – go ahead and do it.

Keep up the discussion for mental health awareness all year long.