Mental Health ACTION Month: Ongoing awareness is needed, but so is action

I have been fortunate to have gone through a debilitating mental health crisis and come out alive. I am fortunate because I lived, but also because the struggle and ongoing recovery has made me a more complete, empathetic person. Whenever I hear anyone discussing their experience with a mental health struggle, I instantly feel a sense of empathy, connection and identification.

Thankfully, I was guided to resources that supported a healthy, sustained recovery. Coincidentally, my career also turned and I was able to gain professional experience through employment at a preeminent mental health organization. Through this and my personal experience, I know the profound importance of standing up to our fear and meeting these formidable challenges head on. It is human nature to subvert our feelings when we are in a crisis, but as it turns out, our instincts are not always right. We must find the courage, however uncomfortable it may be, to be vulnerable and speak out.

In fact, the world is sometimes counter-intuitive and inverted when we struggle with a mental health disorder. We often seek to isolate, but it is a community that can heal. We want comfort, but we must embrace a level of discomfort, as a result of the work and growth that is needed. The most important act of all is to reach out to a person we trust to express our pain and ask for help.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are tips for anyone struggling with their mental health. I am not a licensed therapist. Rather, this is simply what worked for me.

1.    Share your feelings with someone. It’s a myth that the strong do not show their feelings. To the contrary, being vulnerable takes the most courage of all. There is no need to live with secrets or harbor difficult emotions. Opening up and talking with someone requires a fearlessness and strength, but it will make you feel better, and it is the first step to treatment and care. Shared experiences are the foundation of many successful support groups and 12-step programs. Meet this moment now. Talk to someone about what is troubling you, however large or small.

2.    You don’t have to do this alone. Besides trusted friends and family, professionals like psychiatrists, social workers, educators and school psychologists are there to help. The journey to a healthy, happy life is going to require exposing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and getting the support you need and deserve. There is help available, and there are solutions that are evidence-based, and proven to be effective.

3.    Make the commitment. Mental health conditions are almost always chronic and the treatment requires sustained work. Practice smart self-care with practical tools that trained professionals can teach you. If you sought to be physically fit and healthy, you would change your diet and begin exercising. If you wished to become better educated, you would read the right articles and books and take classes. Emotional and spiritual maintenance is no different. It takes ongoing work — sometimes a substantial investment of time and courage.

4.    This is a physiological issue. It is not your fault. The experience that you are having may be diagnosable in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a disorder of the brain, or you may be suffering distress caused by a traumatic event. Mental health disorders can be made worse by environmental conditions — such as toxic relationships or parents who simply do not understand, but it likely doesn’t begin there. More often it has physiological underpinnings, so do not blame yourself or feel inadequate. Mental health is physical health. If you developed an ache, a chronic cough or a rash, would you seek the care of a doctor? Obviously, you would. Emotional pain is no different.

5.    Age is a factor. The facts are that 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness begins before age 14; 75 percent begins before age 24. Until age 25, the human brain is undergoing many changes. As an adolescent our feelings are intensified: it isn’t hot, but rather, it feels like it is boiling. It isn’t cold, but rather, it feels like it is freezing. Scientifically speaking, the brain has not matured until age 25, which is when we are truly adults. Traits like risk-aversion begin to set in around this age. Auto rental companies understand this, which is why we cannot lease a car until age 25.

6.    Feelings are transient. We all experience shifts in mood but some of us experience these feelings more intensely. Tolerating these intense emotions is exhausting, but our feelings are not to be feared. Think of them as harmless waves crashing in on the shore and washing back to sea. With professional talk therapy and sometimes, with the right prescription medication, moods and feelings are always more manageable.

7.    Make your plan to achieve the outcome you desire. Improving your mental health often starts with confronting the feelings you have, defining them — and getting help doing that — and setting a plan of action. Think about the outcome you want. Visualize it. Imagine the future filled with freedom from the pain you have. Invest in yourself and work toward making that vision a reality.

8.    Take initiative, investigate and understand what you are going through. It may help to learn about your disorder, as well as any co-occurring disorders or conditions. Many who have suffered from a mental disorder eventually come to own it and continue to learn about it. There is data that suggests that learning about the science of what is taking place in the brain can aid in treatment or recovery. In some cases, it can be helpful and therapeutic to give back or support others who have a similar struggle.

9.    Be gentle with yourself. If I asked you to name all the things you love, how long would it take to name yourself? Take a moment every day to care for yourself. Be kind to yourself. You are important. This life was never meant to just be endured. With the right actions taken — often part of a daily regimen — you can have a healthy, vibrant existence filled with wonder, awe and inspiration.

You deserve that life.

Suicide Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255)

If you or someone you know is in crisis, fighting an addiction, being bullied, a victim of domestic violence, or struggling with depression and feelings of suicide, there are options. Help is available. Speak with someone today.

Crisis Text Line https://www.crisistextline.org/

Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, at no cost, 24 Hours a day. Crisis Text Line is here for any crisis. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds, all from our secure online platform. The volunteer Crisis Counselor will help you move from a hot moment to a cool moment.

SteveFund.org

If you are a young person of color and feeling down, stressed or overwhelmed, text STEVE to 741741 and a live, trained Crisis Counselor will respond to you quickly to provide support.

Childmind.org

The Child Mind Institute is dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders by giving them the help they need.