It’s that time of year again – the school year is winding down, a summer breeze is in the air, and everyone is ready for vacation! While May is appropriately popular for its blooming scenery, it also marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month, an annual event which many people can participate in through a variety of ways. So wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, here are some different methods you can practice to raise awareness for mental health!
Mental Health Awareness Month started in the U.S. in 1949 by an organization called Mental Health America (MHA), right after World War II. Since then, MHA has continued the tradition of the month by providing updated online toolkits during March and selecting an annual theme. This year’s “Back to Basics” connects COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on mental health, with MHA recognizing that “stress, isolation, and uncertainty have taken a toll on [our] well-being”.
As with the theme, let’s start by going over some foundational terms associated with mental health care and their significance. According to MHA, mental health refers to our emotional and social well-being, so it impacts our behaviors, thoughts, and relationships with others. As a result, prioritizing mental health is important to make well-informed decisions regarding daily aspects of our lives. A diagnosis is not needed for a person to be dealing with poor mental health, which can stem from a multitude of factors such as trauma, stress, or genetics.
Since mental health is a journey, there will be many highs and lows which each bring their own set of unique circumstances. If you are in a good mental place currently, remember to practice coping mechanisms – skills that help you deal with difficult situations – such as taking up a new hobby or extracurricular interest. This way, your skills will be refined and polished to use when needed. These fluctuations in one’s health also lead to struggles such as not feeling “sick enough” to seek treatment for mild symptoms.
We’ve seen the background behind mental health, so now how can we make a difference? To begin with, educating ourselves is the most important step in the process of advocacy, so we do not spread misinformation and become well acquainted with taboo topics.
For example, did you know…
- 50 million or 19% of U.S. adults struggle with mental illness, making it more commonplace than people expect
- There are 3 clusters of personality disorders characterized by different symptoms
- The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 not only contends with physical health benefits, but also expands insurance plans to cover mental health treatment
To learn more about similar topics you can do one of these four things suggested or even more!
- Local: Talk to your school counselor for information regarding mental health basics
- Casual: Check out MHA’s website for quick facts/statistics
- Informative: Go to your local library and read books like “This is Depression”
- Professional: Take an online, college accredited course such as through Stanford
Online advocacy is another good place to start, especially for those with social anxiety or social media access. Toolkits made by organizations like Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), New Directions, and more can help assist with curating infographics and videos to post on online platforms. Many are downloadable and accessible for free, providing reliable content. Bulleted below are just a few toolkits found online, but feel free to explore more!
Last but not least, in-person advocacy is a more direct action that would take more planning and energy to execute, but would leave a greater impact. This can be done on a variety of levels, but starting small helps when beginning your advocacy journey, and then you can build your way up to a greater platform. Through this, you will have the chance to nurture valuable leadership skills to better tackle mental health awareness in new and creative ways! For now remember to think outside the box for a more personal, unique method to communicate your message.
- Person-to-person: Recognize symptoms of illnesses (especially if a friend is not feeling well) and use words of affirmation to help uplift anyone you know that is struggling
- Community: Organize a walkout in your school and create posters to raise awareness for mental health. Clearly outline a goal for your protest (Are you asking for more available counselors? Are you protesting a piece of legislation?)
- Other ideas:
- Coordinate a mental health screening event which allows for a quick “snapshot” of one’s mental health
- Volunteer with mental health organizations like SafeSpace and the Taarika Foundation!
- Get involved in political change and recognize which local and national candidates support mental health legislation
We hope these suggestions empower you to take action and raise awareness for mental health as we go “Back to Basics” for this month!