May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
Normalize mental health. We get a whole month to do so. Isn’t that a sad thing to have to say? Why is it that we have to make an intentional act to “normalize” something that is not only normal, but also inevitable.
In order to shift the dialogue, it’s important to address the reaction of mental health within our society, and what messages we actively share to those around us. This involved mental health stigma. I know it can be confusing, but there are levels of stigma that impact how we address mental health: External stigma and internal stigma.
External stigma is the stigma that is impacted from messages from outside of ourselves, such as media and/or unfair treatment by others. When we reflect on mental health in media (ugh, it makes me cringe to think about it.) movies and television shows make the connection that mental health is only the most extreme and only showcase the most uncommon mental health disorders. Yes, those are areas of mental health, and sadly our society sees it as entertainment- which it’s not for those who experience those symptoms- but it’s also an area of mental health that most are unable to relate to, as the prevalence of these disorders is much lower. What we don’t see are everyday individuals that experience mild to moderate anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit disorder, etc.- perhaps because they are too “real” and we use entertainment as a form of escape from these very common symptoms.
These external stigmas influence internal stigma, which is regarded as the shame/embarrassment and assumed discrimination by others that prevent individuals from seeking help and sharing or discussing their experiences. Some helpful ways to overcome stigma and bring awareness to mental health can include the following:
· Talking openly about mental health.
Check in on friends and loved ones, and allow yourself to be open with others on how you are truly feeling.
· Being conscious of language.
Our language choices have a powerful effect on how we view mental health and people living with mental health conditions. Be sure to use language that shows support and empathy, and not passing judgement on others.
· Showing compassion for those with mental illness.
Provide an open mind to others, and allow yourself to express empathy for one another.
· Being open to understanding and learning about mental health.
Make the intention to learn about more about mental health, and what actions can be taken to overcome barriers to treatment. In my own words: do the work, don’t just say it. Research, discuss, challenge.
This month of mental health awareness should be a goal to overcome stigma, and allow ourselves to feel worthy, to feel supported, and to feel we are not alone in struggles. Talk about it. Celebrate and learn about yourself, and allow yourself to be prioritized. If you like to bake, exercise, podcast, meditate, anything- make time for it. Find your happy- you deserve it.