May has been Mental Health Awareness month since 1949, and while I often talk about mental health in this monthly blog, it bears mentioning that this blog post mentions trauma and suicide. If you need help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “Home” to 741741.
1. Talk about it
Many folks are afraid to talk about mental health, or more specifically, suicide, because they have the impression that talking about it will lead to more mental turmoil or completion of suicide. This has been proven not to be true. In fact, many people who are suicidal or who are in other emotional distress want to talk but don’t know how to start the conversation. For support systems, helping people who struggle start the conversation can end up being beneficial. However, some may not be ok with discussing their mental health and that must be respected. This is no reason to avoid the topic altogether. Start talking with those who you feel may be struggling this week. Listen with patience and an open heart.
2. Trauma drama
“Why am I so dramatic?” is a question I ask myself many times in a week. It took me a long time to realize that mental health symptoms, racism, white supremacy, bigotry, and “othering” aren’t “drama,” they’re legit stressors on one’s mental well-being. If you’ve survived any type of trauma, triggers can turn your day from average or good into a nightmare you’re wading through just so you can come up for air on the other side. This is not helped by the concept of “trigger” being a buzzword used to describe anything people encounter that they don’t like. Triggers are real, and cause very real distress. This word shouldn’t be used lightly or in a joking manner. So to trauma survivors, no, you are not being “dramatic.” What others deem to be minor can be very major for us, so your equilibrium being off is valid, and it’s ok to not function at 100% all the time. It’s ok to have a red light day where your focus is surviving and taking things one second at a time.
3. In the mood
Mood disorders may be the most well-known of mental health disorders, as they include depression and bipolar disorder. Because of their prevalence, I have no doubt that many people reading know someone who lives with a mood disorder. An estimated 280 million people in the world have depression, according to the World Health Organization. It’s important that we legitimize pervasive feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness as a medical condition as real as any physical illness. With both depression and bipolar disorder, it’s important not to use these words flippantly, such as, “The weather is so bipolar,” or “My event was cancelled, I’m so depressed.” Inconsiderate use leads to more stigma on top of disorders that are already stigmatized. This week, consider your vocabulary, including the word “crazy” when you’re talking with others.
4. If you can’t make serotonin….store bought is fine!
This is controversial depending on whom you talk to, but I cannot say enough good things about finding the right medication for the symptoms you’re experiencing. It takes a long time, it’s tedious, you want to give up, you question efficacy, but one day, for quite a number of individuals, it just works. The hope is that you’ll one day find the right combination of meds, therapies, and self-care that keep you on a more even keel, or upward trajectory. There is NOTHING WRONG with needing to take medication for your mental health, and your lived experience is of infinite worth no matter your point of view on the matter.
Just as there is nothing wrong with needing to take medication, neither is there anything wrong with needing therapy. Many people go to therapy, including people without a diagnosed mental illness. Lots of people appreciate the ability to talk things out and get a fresh perspective on life’s issues. Therapy is not reserved only for people with mental health difficulties. I also realize that by saying this, I have a lot of privilege as I have access to both therapy and medication. This is why it is important to advocate for accessible and affordable mental health care on a city, county, and state level as every single person, mentally ill or not, benefits from services being available to all.