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Mental Health Awareness

May was Mental Health Awareness month but the truth is that we should have this awareness everyday. This awareness is essential because of the stigmas and misunderstandings surrounding mental health issues and illnesses. All forms of our health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc) impact each other and contribute to our wellness. Mental health needs the same amount of attention and consideration as physical health because if we aren’t at our best internally it takes a toll externally. If we ignore our mental health we are denying ourselves the ability to heal and be the greatest that we can be.

Catering to your mental health is a commitment and is something that needs to be prioritized. It is more than just thinking positively and faking it until you make it. It calls for you to sit with your emotions, rest when you feel overwhelmed, and to offer yourself compassion. Compassion is key, whether it be for yourself or for others who are going through a troubling time. It allows you to hold space for every part of yourself without judgment.

Mental health issues and illnesses are more common than we think, as 1 in 4 adults are diagnosed with mental disorders in a given year, according to John Hopkins Medicine. People who have mental disorders, illnesses, or mental health issues may not choose to disclose it or some don’t know that they are dealing with it. A lot of people suffer in silence due to feeling ashamed, or due to the fear of being judged because of the stigma. This calls for more awareness and for us to be kinder and empathetic. The Mad in America article “‘Mental Health’ Is a Euphemism for Policing Social Deviance” highlights the way that the public has made the term “mental health” into a more positive term to address mental distress while neglecting to address the way society treats mental illnesses as a social deviance. Society needs to reframe the way it views mental illness and that begins with honest conversations and a willingness to learn and unlearn.

There are many factors in working that impact a person’s mental health. In the social justice community, sometimes the work we do can affect us mentally, especially when you’re not seeing change as fast as you would like or if you’re working really hard to create change. When you hear the struggles that people face and when you want to help, it can cause vicarious trauma. Another factor is the work environment and workplace culture. If you are not feeling heard or valued in your place of work, which is where you spend most of your time, it can cause pressure to prove yourself and lead to burnout or it can make you less passionate. Either way it plays a big part because we spend a lot of time focusing on work.

Personally, this year made me pay more attention to my mental health. There are so many ebbs and flows on this journey called life, and a lot of times the ebbs were taking over. When I wasn’t feeling my best mentally I would be less productive, which made me feel even worse because I wanted to do my part and be reliable. I knew I needed to be transparent and hold space for the mental health issues I’ve been experiencing but I felt ashamed. I know we all go through things but it was hard for me to be open about it.

The shame I felt (and still feel some days) is normal but the worry I have isn’t necessary. The work we do at MindOpen centers around being compassionate as we advocate for change. It makes me hopeful because I encounter and interact with so many people who are determined to make change, strive for equity and reduce stigmas and biases. My time with MindOpen has really opened my mind. As I listen to conversations about the language we use, being trauma informed, conflict styles and more, I realize that we can create change just by seeing and acknowledging the humanity in others. No matter the type of interaction we have or who we are interacting with, we are giving our attention to something/someone. In MindOpen’s partnerships with organizations working to stop the cycle of mass incarceration , we focus on trauma-informed de-escalation and crisis response. A peer supervisor explained the importance of meeting people where they are. That means allowing them to be in the space they’re in and supporting them in the process. It is about offering consideration and support, even when they feel at their lowest. It all begins with awareness that leads to conversations but it needs to create action. This is what needs to happen with mental health.

When we are going through a rough time, we don’t always have the means to cater to it. Our society requires us to put work ahead of ourselves and our humanity. A lot of people can’t even afford to take time off for themselves and that causes even more stress. Having to choose your job over your health isn’t functional. Sick days shouldn’t be limited, check-ins should happen more often (while having boundaries) and simple kindness goes a long way. We are humans who deal with many circumstances and situations in life and we should be treated as such.

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