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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Since 1949, this declaration has the goal of raising awareness and educating the public about the importance of mental health. It also strives to reduce the stigmas that surround mental illness, as well as send the message to everyone that attaining mental wellness is possible. Each year, millions of people face the reality of living with mental or behavioral health issues. One in four adults in America experience a mental illness during at least one point throughout their lives. However, it’s also important to note that mental health isn’t just about having or not having a mental illness. Our well-being is affected by all aspects of our lives, and that, in turn, affects how we experience life, work, and time with our loved ones. Now, the conversation is more critical than ever. As the pandemic has brought health center stage in an unprecedented way, it’s time to look at the major components of well-being. The conversation around mental health awareness has never been as public, prevalent, or as important. After all, building awareness is a critical ingredient to learning how to care for your mental health.

Mental health is important at every stage of life; it affects how we think, feel and act. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Mental health awareness is critical to promoting mental health treatment. It’s a necessary conversation for changing to a more proactive approach of mental health. Right now, most people do not fill our tanks until they’re on “empty.” Developing our awareness helps us start to recognize the signs and symptoms when we’re feeling “off” — just as we do with physical illness. Mental health plays a major role in people’s ability to maintain good physical health. In turn, problems with physical health can have a serious impact on mental health and decrease a person’s ability to participate in treatment and recovery. So, it makes sense that mental health, just like physical health, needs to be taken care of and maintained.

Despite continuous advances in mental health awareness efforts, there is still much more work to be done. Mental health isn’t just a conversation for people dealing with mental health disorders. In fact, many people aren’t exposed to mental health issues until they are directly impacted by a mental health tragedy such as suicide. It is critical that we start conversations about mental health; what it is, how to recognize it and understand the fact that it is a treatable illness – and during Mental Health Awareness month is the perfect time to start. Ask family, friends, and coworkers how they are doing and really listen to the answers. If they give any indication that they are depressed or anxious, let them know that there are resources available to help them. If you sense that they might be considering self-harm or suicide, guide them to seek help immediately. Don’t be afraid to open up about your own experiences. When people begin to speak about what they are going through, others will feel more comfortable speaking up about what they are struggling with. It also corrects misconceptions and changes perspectives in society. It is important to know that if you are wondering whether one person’s efforts can make a difference, the answer is “Absolutely!” Every conversation you have about the importance of recognizing and treating mental illness creates a ripple that reaches people in your circle, community, and far beyond.

-Katie Aiken, LMSW
Blueprint Clinician

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