The first full week in October is recognized as Mental Illness Awareness Week, and both Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are making stigma their topic to focus on for the week.
NAMI has launched CureStigma.org. The site provides a quiz that helps visitors assess their own stigma towards mental illness, and provides stories of hope and other resources.
Mental Health America similarly hopes to turn the focus on reducing the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. Their site encourages everyone to take a mental health screening and share the results with others to show that checking up on your mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and that it’s okay not to be okay. They also encourage social media shares using #ThingsPeopleSaidAboutMyMentalIllness to spread awareness of the kinds of comments about mental illness that are hurtful.
While things are getting better, stigma remains a barrier standing in the way of more healthy discussions and solutions surrounding mental health. With 1 in 5 Americans affected by a mental health condition, stigma creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.
The start of a new school year is upon us, and with it comes with feelings of excitement and anticipation, along with some fear and anxiety. As kids prepare to head back to class, they’re exposed to issues that may not have played a prominent role in their lives over the summer. Back-to-school time is a great time for parents to get a refresher course on the best ways to approach topics like body image, mental health, sex, drug and alcohol use, and LGBTQ issues when talking with their kids. And kids and teens can benefit from information about health, self-esteem, self-image, and disorders that may affect the way they see or treat themselves.
Mental Health America just released its 2016 Back to School Toolkit, which includes key messages, articles, social media messages and graphics, infographics, and other materials to help both parents and kids have a happy and healthy school year.
As Mental Health Month draws to a close, let’s take a moment to think about recovery. Check out the infographic below courtesy of Mental Health America for more.
Helplines play such a large role in recovery for many people. They’re often the first to hear from someone who is struggling, providing an empathetic, understanding, and safe place to talk. They connect people with counseling, medical treatment, and other resources. And they’re always there to listen and provide continued support to someone, regardless of where in the recovery process they may be. Our deepest thanks go out to all the helplines who are fostering good mental health in their communities!
Peer Supports for Transition-Aged YouthDate: Wednesday April 6, 2016
Time: 2pm EDT
Transition-Aged Youth(TAY), including foster youth, youth who have been through the juvenile justice system, and youth with mental health diagnoses, have unique needs that are often unaddressed. At this crucial stage . . . Read more and register
Peer-Run Respite ProgramsDate: Thursday, April 14, 2016
Time: 2pm EDT
Peer-Run Respite Programs serve as successful alternatives to hospitalization or other traditional crisis services with focuses on support, hope, and . . . Read more and register
Best Practices in the Use of Self-Directed Care to Support Recovery in WomenDate: Thursday, April 21, 2016
Time: 2pm EDT
Building relationships and support systems is an important part of recovery. Mental Health America’s highly innovative It’s My Life: Social Self-Directed Care program combined . . . Read more and register
We wanted to share this touching blog by Paul Gionfriddo of Mental Health America, telling the story of his family’s experience with mental illness and homelessness.
By Paul Gionfriddo
There are half a million homeless people with serious mental illnesses in desperate need of help yet underserved or ignored by our health and social-service systems. That number can seem overwhelming, but for me, it’s all about one person: my son Tim.
Tomorrow is Tim’s 30th birthday, and I wish I could spend it with him. But I don’t know where he is, so this year I’ll have to settle for the memories of his childhood birthdays. Tim was diagnosed with schizophrenia over two decades ago, and has been homeless on the streets of San Francisco for the last 10. I am a former state legislator, a former mayor, a CEO of a national organization…and even I couldn’t prevent it. Because people with mental illness become homeless as a result not of bad choices but of bad public policy.
There are many differences between me and Tim…I’m in my 60s, he’s half my age. I’m 5’9”, he can appear towering at 6’ 5”. I’ve got graying hair, his hair is dark. I’m white, he’s black. But all of those difference don’t really matter…the only reason Tim is homeless and I’m not is because he has a mental illness. That’s it. Our mental health system has failed him and countless others, and it’s time to change that.
So I can’t turn back time. I can’t spend his 30th birthday with my son. I will pray as I do every day that he is safe and that one day we can get him the help he so desperately needs. Until then, I’m going to keep fighting just like Tim does every day. I’m going to fight to change our mental health care system, to work to get people the help they need when they need it, and to get this country talking and addressing mental illness before Stage 4. I will continue to fight for Tim and for the millions like him affected by mental and substance use conditions who have not had a voice for far too long.
You can read Paul’s blog here, and also get other information on mental health, mental illness, and other topics on Mental Health America’s website.
As Mental Health Month draws to a close, I’ve found myself thinking about our society’s general attitudes towards the topic. It’s easy to turn a discussion on mental health into one about mental illness. In fact, I caught myself doing that very thing when I started to write this blog. Talking about mental illness is important, but in a lot of ways it can be much harder to define just what is good mental health.
It’s so often overlooked that Mental Health is just one facet of our overall health. They’re one and the same, really. And that’s why I really like that this year Mental Health America chose the slogan “Mind Your Health” for Mental Health Month.
So what kinds of things contribute to good mental health? Here are some things I’ve learned this month.
Stay connected – Social connections and support from others can actually ward off the effects that stress has on depression and anxiety. Even for introverts like myself, this is still possible and important. Being connected doesn’t always mean large social gatherings or parties. More intimate groups, one on one conversations, texting, email, and even social media are all helpful in staying connected to others and feeling supported by friends and family. Heck, with social media you can even find support from acquaintances or strangers.
Frankie says relax! – We all are guilty of letting this one slide. Rest and relaxation are a luxury, right? Between work, chasing after your kids, running a household, and occasionally remembering to feed yourself in addition to your family, we rarely make time to rest and relax. But it’s actually really important for our mental health. They say that chemicals like serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin help us relax. Things like human touch (massages anyone?) and petting your dog or cat can help release those chemicals. From personal experience I know if I spend just a few moments petting my dogs, I feel less anxious.
Catch some Zzzzz’s – Another that we all neglect. I’m guilty of putting sleep at the very bottom of my priorities each night. But a lack of good sleep can be so unhealthy. So make it a priority. Try to get 7 or 8 hours, keep the same routine (yes, even on weekends, UGH!) and unplug from all electronics at least an hour before bed to help yourself unwind. If in spite of that you still have trouble falling asleep, then maybe talk to your doctor about taking a melatonin supplement. It’s natural and non addictive, but it can still interact with any other medications you might be taking so talk to a professional before taking any supplements.
Break a sweat! – When I think about this tip I think of Legally Blonde. “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy!” It’s a silly quote in the movie but it’s actually true. The chemicals your body releases during exercise can help reduce stress, ward off anxiety, reduce depressed feelings, boost your self esteem, and improve the quality of your sleep. That’s just icing on the cake (is it wrong to mention cake right now? Oops.) when you consider that exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of any number of diseases.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet – Seriously, maybe try and forget I just mentioned cake. We can enjoy sweets and more sinful foods in moderation but in general a diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats can make you up to 30% less likely to develop depression than a diet made up of lots of meats and dairy. Don’t skip meals, because this can lead to fatigue and a lack of focus. And drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated can improve your alertness and contribute to a better overall mood.
When possible, don’t overwhelm yourself – Again, easier said than done, right? One thing I’ve learned is to stop trying to remember everything and instead write it down. Keep a calendar, and build in space for downtime between tasks and events. I find that I just have to say “no” sometimes or turn down certain opportunities that sound like fun, but will actually turn out to be overwhelming if I pile it on an already busy week. We simply can’t do it all, and trying to pretend we can will only hurt us in the long run.
Thanks to Mental Health America for sharing some great information for Mental Health Month that I certainly found useful and I hope to be more disciplined in applying these to my own life. Do you have any tips or methods that you practice that benefit your mental health? Share them in the comments!