May is Mental Health Awareness month.
There are so many great organizations out there that are championing this cause, and pressing for understanding, awareness, and treatment of mental health disorders, including www.breakthestigma.org and www.nami.org. Please consider visiting these sites, and sharing them widely.
We at Hope Springs are passionate about bringing awareness and empathy to mental health concerns. Below are some tips and strategies for getting more comfortable talking about mental health, and responding to it with greater compassion and care.
Get comfortable talking about your feelings.
Every human in the world has feelings of some sort, and many of us have a range of feelings in a single day. We react to life that happens around us, and sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes hurt is bigger than we feel able to handle. Unfortunately, this causes many of us to hide, or withdraw, out of fear of being “weak” or vulnerable. Instead, find someone you trust (a loved one or a professional) and talk about what you’re feeling. If that feels like too much, consider keeping a small journal or log – somewhere you can identify and acknowledge your feelings and reactions.
Be a better listener.
For people to feel comfortable opening up, many of us could work a little harder on being a good listener for them. So much of the time when others speak, we are spending the time trying to figure out what we will say next. When it comes to mental health, we get stuck because we “don’t know what to say.” And we get uncomfortable, and often the conversation feels awkward. To work on this, remember that when others are telling you how they feel, they usually aren’t putting it onto you to fix – they just want to feel heard. So rather than trying to offer them something “helpful” or something to make it better, just tell them that you hear them. Say things like, “I’m so sorry,” or “That sounds really hard,” or “I’m here for you, let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
Promote good self-care.
When things get harder, and we feel sad, lost, alone, or anxious, one of the first things that seems to slip away is good self-care. Our bodies need nutrition to keep us moving, they need sunlight and movement to stay energized, and they need good relaxation and rest to refuel us. Often, these activities feel “indulgent.” Our culture prizes those who seem to have endless stores of energy; not needing a break is somehow a “point of pride.” And it’s a huge part of the problem. We are pushing and pushing until we have nothing left. Work against this unhelpful practice by making sure to take care of yourself and others. Value good self-care, and make time to give your body the things that it needs.
Speak out on a higher level about mental health.
Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack has made it a personal mission to gather information about mental health, reduce the stigma, and increase the resources. Consider donating to causes that promote mental health awareness and treatment (such as www.nami.org or www.namiiowa.org) sharing articles on social media about mental health and treatment, or even contacting your representatives to let them know that you value mental health and its compassionate and accessible treatment.
On a sad note – Iowa is ranked last of all 50 states in availability of inpatient care for mental health concerns. If it matters to you that this improves, speak up!
Consider seeing a mental health professional.
You don’t have to wait until things feel dire – Hope Springs, and other providers, are happy to help you work through hard situations, talk about you and your life, and help you work on making meaningful and positive changes.