By Emily Lindsay, MA, LPC, LLP
How are you? We are asked that question every day. But how often do we just say “fine” or “good” and move on? How often do we actually admit the truth, to ourselves as well as others? Especially these days, how do we become okay with not being okay?
Saying this past year was tough is an understatement. From the coronavirus pandemic to surges in social, racial and political unrest, there is a lot going on in the world that has had a profound impact on the mental health of people of all ages and has tested our resiliency and patience. Throughout this past year, mental health needs have reached new heights, and depression and anxiety rates have drastically increased. Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act. It impacts the choices we make, how we handle stress and our day-to-day interactions with others. Our mental health largely determines our emotional, psychological and social well-being. Yet, mental health concerns are vastly unaddressed, unacknowledged and left untreated for a multitude of reasons including social stigma and lack of education regarding available resources.
May was Mental Health Awareness Month, a designated time to prioritize mental health and acknowledge that it is okay not to be okay. Yet our focus on mental health should not end when May ends. It’s important to continue a year-round message that mental health is an essential part of overall wellness and that those living with mental health issues are deserving of care, understanding, compassion and pathways to hope, healing and fulfillment. We must continue to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, the realities of living with these conditions and strategies for attaining mental health and wellness, as well as continuing to challenge the social stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness.
Approximately 1 in 5 Americans are affected by a mental health issue and face isolation and discrimination. Stereotypes that depict those struggling with mental illness in a negative light only increase the stigma associated with mental illness, and that stigma often prevents individuals from seeking help. In fact, approximately 60 percent of adults with a mental illness did not seek out mental health services this past year as a result of continued social stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.
But let’s not focus solely on the dark facts; let’s shine a little light in the darkness. There is an abundance of tools, resources and support systems available for those impacted by mental illness. For instance, materials provided by Mental Health America for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month included six fact sheets that provide practical strategies that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency in navigating through the ups and downs of life:
You may be asking, “What can I do to help support mental health awareness?” Now more than ever, we need to find ways to stay connected with one another and our communities. Connect with friends, family and others in your community and start up positive dialogues about mental health and the importance of ending the stigma. Learn more about mental health by utilizing resources offered by organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org) or by talking to a mental health professional, like myself and my colleagues, to gain more information. Offer support to your friends and loved ones when they open up to you about their struggles with mental illness. Tell your story! Whether you live with mental illness or are a loved one of someone who does, sharing your story can be a powerful way to support others who may be experiencing a similar situation.
There is nothing to hide from. Nothing to be ashamed of. The fight is only against yourself to fight the stigma and internalized notion that reaching out for support and validation is a sign of weakness. Often, the hardest action we can take on our mental health journey is the very first one: reaching out for support. It is time we all take care of our emotional wellbeing in the same way we tend to our physical health. It is okay to not be okay. Think about that the next time somebody asks that simple question: “How are you?”