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.
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?
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.
It’s May, which means it’s once again Mental Health Awareness Month. I wrote about this last year when the theme from Mental Health America was #4Mind4Body, which brought awareness to the importance of taking care of every aspect of your health. MHA has decided to expand on this theme in 2019, focusing on a variety of ways to boost mental health and general wellness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has its own focus for Mental Health Month called the WhyCare? campaign. NAMI’s campaign will promote the importance of care in ‘our relationships to others, in mental health treatment and services and in support and education to millions of people, families, caregivers and loved ones affected by mental illness.’ They offer plenty of ways to get involved and demonstrate WhyCare? by sharing stories about how caring for others, or having others care for you, as affected you.
And those are only two of the many organizations that will be having their own campaigns throughout the month of May focusing on mental health awareness, education and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. There are plenty of ways, and reasons, to get involved this year.
Whether you participate with MHA, NAMI, another organization or on your own, know that you’re not alone in trying to spread mental health awareness. I will do my best to try to participate in as many campaigns as I can, and at the end of the month, I hope to share some of what I learned with you all.
As it has been since 1949, May is Mental Health Awareness Month throughout the United States. Founded by Mental Health America, each year has a different theme that focuses on certain aspects of mental health (e.g. in 2017, the theme was Risky Business). This year the theme is Fitness #4Mind4Body, and it’s centered about making sure that you’re taking care of your entire body when it comes to your health. This means physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually…the list goes on. They also emphasize ‘making use of the tools and resources that benefit bodies and minds together’ – of which there are plenty. It’s no secret that physical actions can significantly affect our mental health. Whether it’s exercising, spending quality time with people or earnestly seeking out activities that you love to do, the things we do every day go a long way in impacting our mental health.
We make choices all the time. What to eat, what to wear, who to spend time with. Should we work out today? Should we meet up with friends for happy hour? All these things affect us in the long run. Whether we admit it or not, the physical things we do day in and day out affect our mental health – which is why we should pay attention to them.
I really like this year’s theme because I think that taking care of my body has a positive impact on my mental health. Maybe it doesn’t always keep the depression away, but it rarely makes my symptoms worse. Whether it’s eating right, exercising, or spending time with quality people, I’ve known for a long time that the choices I make – or don’t make – will impact whether or not my depression and anxiety will get the best of me that day, or that week. It might not always be the main factor, but it definitely has a role to play in the grand scheme of things.
And this might be my favorite part of this year’s theme; ANYONE can participate! Being mentally healthy should be at the top of everyone’s list – you don’t need have a mental illness to get to work on your mental health (though I won’t lie, it helps a little).
Mental Health America has a ton of awesome resources to go along with a toolkit that is made specially for Mental Health Month. They also have interesting challenges every day of the month to help you reach your goals. This might seem like a lot of information, and that this all requires a crazy amount of effort, but remember – any attempt to improve yourself is a monumental step in the right direction.