May is Mental Health Month. After all of the challenges of the past year, I hope 2021 will be the year when we truly start normalizing mental health and breaking the stigma surrounding it.
When you think about mental health, what comes to mind? Do you picture someone who is suicidal? Or, perhaps in a state of psychosis? The truth is that we all experience mental health challenges from time to time. We all have down days or times when we feel anxious. We have phobias – maybe a fear of spiders or flying. Over the past year, we have all been isolated from our friends and family. That lack of connection – and even just the lack of hugs – has made the year of COVID tough for many people. All of these are perfectly normal feelings. So it begs the question – why is there so much stigma around mental health?
It’s important to remember that mental health exists on a continuum. Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as abuse, can leave scars of trauma, while others may be more genetically predisposed to develop a severe mental illness. And all of us, based on what is happening in our lives, can have days when we feel great, or days we feel sad, depressed, and anxious. But when our down days become chronic or our anxious feelings start interfering with our daily functioning – that’s when any of us may need support or help. And for some, professional help may be important.
But there is good news. Whether a mental health challenge is slight or severe – recovery is possible. However, recovery can only happen when people know where to turn for help. On average, there is an 11-year delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We can all play a role in helping to raise awareness of mental health and the resources that are available to individuals who are struggling.
During Mental Health Month, I hope you’ll also make time to check in on your own emotional well-being and practice your own self-care. Make that commitment to yourself this month, but don’t let it end when we flip the calendar to June. We need to remember that mental health is an important part of our overall health and wellbeing. When we start talking about our mental health openly and honestly, that’s when true change can begin.