Why Everyone Should Care About Mental Health Awareness Month

As we reach the end of Mental Health Awareness Month 2020, I was trying to figure out what else I could write about it. Seeing as how this is a mental health blog, it feels like every post I write is about mental health awareness – what could I say now that would make this any different? But, seeing as how this is a big month not only for the mental health community but for organizations around the country, I decided to share why this isn’t just a cause for those affected, it’s for everyone. We should all care about mental health awareness – and here’s why.

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My Own Approach to Mental Health

As we continue on with Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve taken a real interest in trying to define and explain what the concept of mental health looks like. I never thought the answer would be simple, but I did think that there would be a consensus. In the mental health community, it seems like there is.

Outside of that? It seems a bit up in the air. And since there are plenty of people who might be dealing with their own mental health challenges for the first time, it’s not the time for whataboutisms or judging what others are doing to stay mentally healthy. One way I can do that is to explain how I approach my mental wellness. Continue reading

What Mental Health Looks Like

When I wrote my post earlier this week, I wasn’t expecting to get as angry as I did. Not only did it get in the way of what I wanted to write about, but it frustrated me. I know it’s complicated to properly define mental health, but I didn’t think it was complicated because the dictionary doesn’t know how to define it. But we’re moving on…

A question that’s just as complicated to answer as ‘how do you define mental health’ is similar: what does mental health look like? I don’t mean yours specifically (though that IS the Mental Health Month Challenge!), but what the concept looks like. So I created a short photo essay to answer this question.

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What’s the Right Definition of Mental Health?

I’ll be honest – I had a totally different idea for today’s blog post. I was going to talk about how we define mental health and, using some definitions I found, introduce ways that we can recognize the practice of mental health in our lives. But after looking up those definitions, I couldn’t. Because after looking at two differing definitions for even a moment, it was clear why there’s confusion about what mental health actually is.

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A Mental Health Month Challenge

In case you missed it, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I like to start off the month by writing about some of the organizations and resources that are available for people to learn more about mental health. Whether you’re learning more about your own mental health or its prevalence in your country and community, there’s plenty of information out there that shows how important mental wellness is in this day and age.

But this year, I also wanted to help encourage others to explore their own mental health –  however that looks. And I think I found a few good ways.

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Mental Health Awareness Month 2020

The month of May is a big deal for MBNB because it’s Mental Health Awareness Month! I write about Mental Health Awareness Month every year, not only because this is a mental health blog (duh!) but because I like to share the themes leading mental health organizations focus on each year. Continue reading

Mental Health Outside of Awareness Months

I’ve written a ton of posts on this blog during ‘Awareness Months’ over the years: Mental Health Month, Mental Illness Awareness Week, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, World Mental Health Day…the list goes on. I appreciate those days because not only does it shine a spotlight on a specific issue, but it emboldens people to talk about their experience in a way they might not do any other day, week or month of the year.

And while I appreciate those days, I’m never really sure what to say in the days and weeks after it’s over. What should we do? Is there an action that needs to be taken? How do we take what we’ve learned over that time and apply it to the future?

I thought about this especially this year after the end of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. I didn’t know to do when the month was over, because I wasn’t sure how to continue to educate others on suicide prevention and make people feel comfortable enough to share their stories and experiences.

It feels easier for some during an ‘Awareness’ month because others are speaking out, which I very much appreciate – in fact, I think that’s one of the biggest benefits of these ‘awareness’ movements. But it also makes me wonder why it’s so much harder to speak out the other days, weeks and months of the year when mental health isn’t necessarily a central focus on a national or global scale.

Sometimes it feels like there’s an all-or-nothing attitude toward attention given to mental health movements. This attitude isn’t from our community, of course; the bloggers, activists and organizations that I read from and follow are wonderful at continuing the conversation year-round. No, this is more of an attitude from the general public. It feels like if we’re not in the middle of an awareness month, then mental health is not on the radar.

Look, I know that there won’t be the same level of attention given to a cause outside of a time of awareness; that’s fine with me. I’m honestly just wondering why there can’t be a happy medium for this situation. Mental health doesn’t need to be at the forefront for everyone, but it’s also part of our daily lives. It comes up in the thoughts we have and the decisions we make. There’s space for it in the daily conversation. It might not always be happy and uplifting conversation, but that’s life.

Maybe the drop off that I’m talking about isn’t as extreme as I’m making it out to be, but that’s always how I’ve felt once these times of awareness are over. If I’m wrong, please let me know! I guess I just want mental health to be part of the daily conversation in some way, and not just when it’s Mental Health Day/Week/Month, etc. That’s not such a wild thought, right?

 

How to Fight the Mental Health Stigma

I have battled mental health issues for more than six years and, for just as long, I have been battling the stigma of mental health. There are plenty of reasons as to why the stigma surrounding mental health continues to exist, but its results are usually the same. People are given an inaccurate picture of what mental illness looks like and, based on this depiction, they treat people with mental illness a certain way. This leads potentially making people feel ashamed of their struggles, and not seeking help for those struggles.

While progress has been made, the stigma surrounding mental health persists in our world today (which I wrote about on the blog last week). But there are several things you can do to lessen the stigma surrounding mental health. While not all of them are easy, any action taken toward shrinking the stigma goes a long way not only for that person but for any of us who are struggling with our mental health. Here are some things to try to lessen the mental health stigma:

Be Open and Honest

When someone asks you how you’re doing, it’s natural to say that we’re ‘fine.’ But if you’re with someone that knows you well and you feel comfortable around, it might not hurt to tell them how you’re really doing. People are afraid of the unknown, but when you thrust mental health into everyday conversation, it becomes easier for people to accept in time.

Word Choice is Important

Labels – and knowing the right labels – are important when it comes to mental health. Your friend being sad for a few hours doesn’t mean they have depression. I’ve heard people get called bipolar all the time if they act even remotely out of the ordinary. And of course, there’s the constant labeling of the mentally ill as ‘crazy’ – a misspoken phrase that unfortunately is quite common. Once you pay attention to the words you use, you can begin to recognize when people around you use language that’s hurtful to the mentally ill.

Mental Health is Equal to Physical Health

This is something that I personally try to encourage as much as possible – that mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental illness is a disease just like all the other physical diseases out there, it’s just harder to see. Once people around me understood that I live with a disease, it was easier for them to accept why I sometimes couldn’t come to parties or hang out with them.

It’s All Relative

Mental health is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. People are all on different journeys and in different places with their mental health, and what works for one person may not work for another. Recognizing that we’re all individuals with our own stories might seem like common sense, but mental health is something that’s often put into a box because of the lack of awareness or education. Don’t be afraid to tell your story and let people know that it’s just that – your story.

These are just a few of the many ways we can work to shrink the stigma. It’s hard to know what will work best in a given situation but one thing is certain – that stigma won’t go away if we don’t try to get rid of it!

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Some Thoughts to Close Out Mental Health Awareness Month

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking as we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s been an interesting month for me – since I am in the middle of the process of weaning off my medication, I have been a little removed from mental health advocacy. I’m focusing on making sure this process goes smoothly and answers my questions – mainly, do I need to be on medication right now? I might have to go back on it weeks, months or years from now, but making sure the process goes well is my main focus.

Anyway, this month has been encouraging. I think the best thing I’ve seen is that this month has distinguished the difference between mental health and mental illness. Mental illness might not affect everyone, but mental health does. Taking care of yourself is important in all aspects of life, and this includes mental health.

Bringing awareness is also a very underrated aspect of improving the mental health conversation. Because it’s such a nuanced topic, it’s not enough to just say ‘be aware’ about mental health and leave it at that. It needs to be a discussion, an ongoing conversation to make sure people are looking out for each other and themselves. We make choices every day that improve or worsen our mental health, and it’s important to recognize the impact of these choices.

I was encouraged by the #RealConvo Instagram campaign and learned a ton from Mental Health America about how we can use different things in our life to boost our mental health. I read posts from people who don’t normally talk about mental health – they were honest and open and I loved seeing it. I feel like the conversation surrounding mental health improves every year, and things like Mental Health Awareness Month are a good reminder of how far this conversation has come.

Even though the month might be over, we can’t stop talking about mental health. Maybe it doesn’t have to be in the most obvious or outspoken way. There are plenty of ways to discuss mental health, and you need to do what works for you. Maybe that means writing a social media about that the fact that sometimes, you’re not okay. Maybe it’s just checking in with a friend or loved one and asking, ‘how are you, really?’

The most important part of this is that the discussion doesn’t end. Mental health, as with many things in life, is ongoing. We don’t always have the luxury of picking it up and putting it down as we see fit. So, however, whenever and wherever you have this conversation – even if it’s just with yourself – I hope that you can continue to remind those around you that our mental health is important – whether or not it’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

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Teenagers and Mental Health

There are pros and cons to only writing about your own experience with mental health. On one hand, you can write more in-depth about the day-to-day of living with mental illness because well, you’re living it. On the other hand, I still have a limited worldview (given my age, gender, race, etc.) that isn’t as helpful to people different than me. I’m going to try to post more from a mental health advocacy perspective, and I’m very interested in hearing from you about what I should cover. Let me know in the comments or send me an email at mybrainsnotbroken@gmail.com!

I am not a Gen Z’er. For one thing, I don’t think anyone actually uses that term, and for another thing, I am not a teenager. Though I’m only in my 20s, I am practically ancient when it comes to the digital upbringing of people even 5-10 years younger than me. So there’s a lot I don’t understand about the generation below me, and a lot I won’t even try to understand. But one thing I will say is that the conversation surrounding mental health by teenagers today is far, far ahead of the conversation that was being had when I was a teenager.

In a recent Pew Research Poll, 70 percent of teens saw mental health as a ‘struggle for their peers.’ Is this concerning? Definitely. But that also means that mental health is part of a conversation for teens that didn’t exist a generation ago.

“It’s both worrying and positive at the same time,” says Claire Henderson, a clinical senior lecturer at the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience. “In terms of more people saying they know someone [with mental illness], it may be because the rates are going up, but it may also be because of a greater level of awareness.” (from the Atlantic)

And call me glass half-full, but I think that there’s a greater level of awareness surrounding mental health today than in past decades, which contributes directly to that ‘growing’ number.

One of the biggest differences is the Internet. While there are clearly issues when it comes to teenagers and the Internet/social media, there is also an upside. It gives teens an opportunity to not only share their own experiences but see that they aren’t alone in those experiences. Considering a significant symptom of depression is a feeling of isolation, knowing you’re not alone can go a long way toward dealing with your issues.

Though it’s only been a few years since I was a teen, my upbringing was significantly different than theirs. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 16, and I didn’t download Instagram until I was 21. There’s a big difference between the pressures I was feeling being 16 years old in 2010 and how a 16-year-old feels in 2019. But the good news is, it seems as though the conversation is easier to have. And that is a massive step in improving the mental health conversation in today’s America – a goal people of every age should aspire to.

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