Prevention Talk: Mental Health Awareness Month | Columnists

May is Mental Health Awareness Month: a month to provide prevention, education, and support the fight on stigma surrounding mental illness. Like physical health, we all have mental health. Our mental health lies on a spectrum and can be affected by a multitude of factors: a loss, a stressful day, a change of plans, or even genetics. When our mental health negatively affects our daily lives, we begin to look at the impacts of mental illness. Untreated and unsupported mental health issues can result in social isolation, low self-esteem, incarceration, substance use, sleep problems, changes in appetite, or even ending one’s life. Everyone has had some sort of experience regarding mental health. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states at least 1 in 4 adults are living with a diagnosed mental health condition. This means either yourself, a family member, a co-worker, or a friend either has a diagnosis, supports someone with a mental illness, or is struggling in silence. This month is a time to increase your knowledge about mental health and to devote time to your own mental well-being.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 450 million people are living with a mental illness, and two thirds of those people never seek treatment. There are various reasons why an individual might not seek treatment. A large impact is stigma, or the untrue and damaging people hold about a condition like mental illness. For example, society has been made to believe that people with a mental illness are dangerous and unpredictable. There is also institutional stigma, providing less access or funding to needed services. The discrimination of a mental health diagnoses has been historically prevelant by employers, landlords, healthcare professionals, and schools. This is why laws have slowly been put in place over the years to protect these individuals. While there are social and institutional stigmas, the detriment of self-stigma is more impactful than anything. There is an internalized shame that people feel about their own mental health symptoms like they are a burden or incapable in some way. Research from Johns Hopkins shows that it takes an average of 11 years after first experiencing mental health symptoms for someone to seek treatment. Stigma and self-perception increase the struggle for those seeking necessary support and continue to suffer in silence. Nonprofit organizations like Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness lead the charge in fighting stigma and ensuring parity in mental health treatment.

Having good management of your mental health is more than just medication or counseling. It is practicing self-care. This month, take time to do something new to improve your mental health. Have you ever heard the phrase “put your own oxygen mask on first?” It’s because you need to know how to take care of yourself first, everything else comes later. Activities could include deep breathing, reading your favorite book, or taking a walk. Self-care is finding out what keeps one’s self grounded, it’s creating boundaries. It’s recognizing what makes you feel overwhelmed, when you’re sad, and need your own support. Being able to step back and acknowledge your needs first is not selfish. This might be setting time limits of when you can be reached, picking up hobbies that you enjoy, and even finding someone you can trust to communicate your thoughts and feelings. While individuals can learn their own ways to cope, ultimately, it is also the support from professionals and loved ones that can lift them up. So, how can we help?

One of the easiest ways to break the stigma and normalize mental health is by talking about it. Talking about mental health can be uncomfortable. But by being open to hearing others’ mental health experiences, it creates this partnership to talk about it as much as we talk about physical health. Practicing good mental health is the first step into one’s holistic wellness. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with the resources that are available in your area for you, your loved ones, and your community. Each county has a mental health clinic to address mental health needs and evaluations: Greene County Mental Health 518-622-9163 and Columbia County Mental Health 518-828-9446. The Mobile Crisis Assessment Team serves Columbia and Greene Counties and can be reached at 518-943-5555 from 8am-10pm each day. Greener Pathways, the mobile team for assessing and treating substance use issues in both counties, can be reached at 518-291-4500; Please visit greenerpathways.org for more information. For general mental health referrals or information about local resources, contact the Mental Health Association of Columbia and Greene Counties at 518-828-4619. If you are considering suicide or huritng yourself or anyone else, call 9-1-1 for immediate assistance.

While education and information is crucial, Mental Health Month is also about honoring the strides people have made in improving public perception, services, and treatment for those with mental illness. We also acknowledge those who have recovered or are in recovery for mental health or substance use issues; Your strength and courage should be celebrated. For additional information about this article or to further discuss community awareness and prevention, please contact Twin County Recovery Services, Inc.’s Prevention Department. Contact Prevention Director Tara VanRoy at tarav@twincountyrecoveryservices.org or 518-943-2036 ext. 3311 with any questions or concerns regarding prevention.

Paulina Traulsen, BA is a Prevention Specialist at Twin County Recovery Services, Inc. which is a private, not for profit organization incorporated in 1974 and a NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services agency. Twin County Recovery Services Inc. helps alleviate the devastating effects of substance use disorder in the communities of Columbia and Greene Counties.

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