Mental Health Awareness Month - Valley Behavioral Health
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May 5, 2020 By Julie Rael, LCSW, CCO Valley Behavioral Health

Every year in May, Valley Behavioral Health and other similar organizations across the nation recognize the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental Health Awareness Month was established to provide education and support around mental health, reduce stigma, and encourage people to access treatment. Our psychological health is essential as it impacts us throughout our lives in how we think, feel, and act. It also has a large influence on how we take care of our physical health, relate to others, and perform in school and at work.

Mental Health Awareness Month was first established in 1949, and I can only imagine how this observance and all the efforts behind it have collectively raised our nation’s overall awareness of mental health needs while also reducing the stigma around mental illness these past seventy-one years. During my career, I have observed a decrease in stigma associated with individuals seeking behavioral health treatment. The decrease in stigma has been evidenced by an increase in overall communication around mental health concerns in our community. People openly talk about how they are seeing a therapist or psychiatrist without the past shame that others expressed. We have learned more about various famous and successful people dealing with mental health concerns. The increase in the sharing of experiences with mental illness has invited others to do the same. Children are also learning more about mental health in schools and their accessibility to a school therapist is becoming increasingly more common. Many companies offer employee assistance programs (EAP) to help their workforce address their mental health needs along with implementing “mental health” days to encourage them to take time to focus on their psychological wellbeing. A lot of strides have been made but when we watch the news, we quickly learn that mental illness continues to impact our society and that there is still a lot of work needed to reach every individual and help them access treatment. When tackling any large issue, I always think about how I can get started and help the cause and then I end up focusing on what I can do as an individual to make a small impact. When I take this approach, it usually leads me to learn and to be able to help others navigate the process. When a group works together towards a goal the progress is magnified and inspires others to get involved. I believe that focusing on mental health awareness and taking action to improve one’s own mental health on the individual level can have a cumulative positive impact on those around us and our community. Included below are practical methods to help us increase our mental health awareness:

· Keep a journal

· Spend some time in quiet solitude with your thoughts during the week.

· Check-in with your self regularly and take and notice your thoughts, moods throughout the day

· Notice how various events and your thoughts associated with them impact your experience and mood

· Observe how you feel emotionally and mentally after an activity or interaction and your associated thoughts

· Consider how you feel around various people and why you may feel that way around them

· Take note of patterns in your thoughts and moods and how these impact your behaviors and interactions with others

If you find yourself experiencing difficulty concentrating, difficulty controlling your worry, not feeling up for things you once enjoyed, constantly sad on most days for more than a few weeks you may have a behavioral health condition that you will need to obtain professional help and support for. Please don’t wait for your situation to worsen and reach out as soon as you become concerned. If you try the practical methods above, you may feel better prepared to begin treatment and learn how to better manage your psychological health.

I also want to highlight the occurrence of multiple discussions around how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our mental health and particularly how people have also been dealing with feelings of grief. During the pandemic, people have experienced a host of losses or changes in their lives and future plans that have resulted in them experiencing responses similar to those who have experienced grief. Some have disregarded their responses and expressed that they do feel that they should be feeling this way as others have experienced worse losses. Feelings of grief and loss are very individualized and should not be generalized to others in how they should cope. The severity or intensity of symptoms as they are subjective to our personality, life situation and previous experiences, but most would report a substantial amount of experienced difficulty with grief and loss after the passing of a loved one, after the end of a significant relationship, the loss of a job or anything that one has devoted a lot of time, work and care on. David Kessler a leading expert on grief and loss talks about the five stages of grief and explains that these include, “denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order. Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of grief ‘s terrain, making us better equipped to cope with life and loss”. If you have lost a loved one during this pandemic or had other losses that are impacting your ability to cope, it is important to seek support. If your loss has impacted your ability to function in daily life it is important to seek professional support as soon as possible. Unresolved grief can lead to more significant behavioral health concerns in the future.

Please join Valley Behavioral Health and our community in observing mental health awareness month. If you or a loved needs treatment or help coping with grief, please contact us today to begin your treatment.

Resources
5 Stages of Grief

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