Since 1949, May has been observed as Mental Health Month in the United States, giving national organizations the ability to raise awareness about mental health and hopefully increase advocacy and cut down the stigma associated with mental health conditions.
One organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) asserts that they are “the largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness, according to http://nami.org. In May of each year NAMI focuses on a particular theme to increase awareness on the reality of those individuals living with mental illness. 2020 is no exception as they proclaim their theme “You Are Not Alone.”
Building on the current struggles for so many dealing with fear, apprehension and isolation, NAMI reminds us that “now more than ever it is important for the mental health community to come together and show the world that no one should ever feel alone.”
Founded in 1949, national organization Mental Health America (http://mhanational.org) also leads individuals and caregivers across the country in using the month of May to “reach out to millions of people through the media, local events and screenings.”
Because it is estimated that “One in five people will experience a mental health illness during their lifetime” they have created a theme of “Tools 2 Thrive” on their website. These are “practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency regardless of the situations they are dealing with.” This toolbox also takes into consideration the current COVID-19 and social distancing.
Another valuable resource for those seeking more information on mental health is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov). On their site they discuss the reality about the stress that people are dealing with associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. They state some of the ways that stress can manifest in an outbreak including fear and worry about your own, or a loved one’s, health; changes in sleep or eating patterns, increased use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs, and worsening of chronic health or mental health conditions.
They also remind us that we all react differently to stressful situations and that those differences are related to our backgrounds, the things that distinguish us from others and our own communities. Some who may respond more strongly are older, higher risk individuals, children and teens, those who are helping with the response and those with mental health or substance abuse problems.
For all of us feeling a higher level of stress right now, the CDC has some specific recommendations. Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including social media. It is hard enough when we overwhelm ourselves with the information but when we add the differences of opinions and conflicts regarding the severity of the situation and the measure being taken, it can lead to information overload.
They also recommend that we take care of our body through mediation, deep breaths, stretching, eating healthy, well-balanced meals, exercising and getting enough sleep.
The third recommendation is to take time to unwind and try to do some activities that you enjoy even if you have to alter them based on the current situations. Lastly, the CDC recommends that we continue to connect with others about our concerns and how we are feeling.
Just like we would surround anyone that has a physical illness, investigating more about mental health during this awareness month will help us to understand that mental illness is not a choice, is not imaginary and deserves our compassion and caring like any other physical illness. Take this time to reach out to people you care about and make sure they are doing okay. We hear this advice all the time, but we have to make sure to take it.
Stay safe and well!