May Is Mental Health Awareness Month: Inclusive Approaches to Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the entire month has been dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues and inclusivity in mental health research, treatment, and care. There’s no denying that mental health is often left out of many conversations, as people are more likely to focus on physical ailments like broken bones or illnesses like cancer. However, mental health issues can be just as crippling as these other conditions, often resulting in feelings of worthlessness or difficulty in social situations.


You Are Not Alone

Studies show that LGBTQIA+ individuals are at a higher risk for experiencing depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues due to prejudice. So don’t think you are alone. 1 in 4 fem-identifying and 1 in 5 masc-identifying people experience mental illness, while 40% of Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness during their lives. This month is meant as a time of education and awareness, but most importantly it is meant as a time for comfort for those suffering from any kind of mental health issue. There is nothing wrong with you or who you are; you have a disorder just like any other, that can be treated just like any other. You Are Not Alone! Everyone has different definitions of mental health which means everyone has different needs when it comes to support. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists ways they say we can help others improve their mental health: Encourage others to get treatment - Friends and family members often are hesitant about urging someone close to them to seek treatment because they fear that person might become angry or reject them. It is important not only for your loved one's sake, but also for your own peace of mind, that you let them know that you care about their well-being and want them to get help if needed.


There are many types of mental health issues

A mental health issue can be caused by something that happens during a person's life or even before birth. A variety of factors could result in a mental health issue, but regardless of what causes it, people can live full and happy lives with help from treatment and support services. The main types of mental health issues are anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia and depression. There are many other conditions or disorders that fall under these categories.


How does mental health affect everyone?

Though mental health affects everyone, certain populations—like LGBTQIA+ individuals—face more discrimination and higher risks of mental health issues. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQIA+) youth were twice as likely to have attempted suicide in their lifetimes than heterosexual youth. Not only are some LGBTQIA+ people at a higher risk for mental health concerns because of societal issues they face; they also suffer from an increased risk of mental health disorders due to trauma that is unique to their community. The isolation often experienced by people living with HIV or AIDS can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide. This is why it’s important to discuss inclusive approaches to mental health during May, which has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month.

 

What can we do about it?

There are many things we can do as individuals, including recognizing people around us who may be struggling and offering support. We can also work with our employers and leaders to create supportive environments in which people feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it. We can be inclusive in our language about mental health issues and disorders; let’s start using language that doesn’t stigmatize those living with conditions, such as saying someone has depression rather than is depressed. Let’s also consider how we discuss mental health at home; what we say or don’t say about it might contribute to stigmas among our loved ones and make them feel uncomfortable getting help if they need it.

Stigma Is A Barrier To Help

Individuals suffering from mental health issues often delay treatment or never seek help because of stigma, or negative attitudes and beliefs about a given circumstance. The result is not only pain for individuals, but also for their families and friends who may be unable to help them. People with severe depression are four times more likely to consider suicide if they have a family member that has committed suicide. Stigma is a barrier to help in every way possible, it stops people from seeking help as well as stops people from talking about how they're feeling to others. Stigma is everywhere though we hope with continued work on awareness programs and education there will be a day when no one feels shame in needing mental health services. When someone chooses to speak out about mental illness, it helps break down stigmas surrounding mental illness and make treatments available for those suffering from these conditions.

Identify Coping Mechanisms

You can start by identifying ways to cope. Try using progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), where you focus on tensing and relaxing different muscle groups around your body one group at a time. This is especially effective if you target areas in your body that experience tension, like your neck or jaw muscles, which makes it ideal as a way to prepare for bedtime before trying to fall asleep. PMR won’t stop negative thoughts from occurring, but studies show that it helps prevent elevated stress hormone levels after stressful experiences and even decrease depression symptoms over time. Similarly, mindfulness exercises help train attention so you don’t get caught up on negative emotions but can instead let go of negative thoughts more easily.

When stress and anxiety are overwhelming, it’s often hard to think clearly. But there are several strategies that can help reduce stress, find peace and regain control of your thoughts and feelings. Start by identifying coping mechanisms—like exercise or meditation—that will work for you. When we’re anxious, we want a quick fix, But unfortunately we don’t always have those tools available. I suggest finding techniques that feel natural and easy—like playing with a pet or talking with friends—and keeping them in mind when you need help.
Scott Beardslee, PhD, senior psychologist at Kaiser Permanente Colorado. 

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