May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It was created with the goal of reaching out to millions of people across the US through media, local events, and screenings to raise awareness of mental health issues, as well as reduce stigma and share resources to help people cope, live a higher quality of life, and heal emotional and psychological wounds. It’s important to recognize the struggles faced by those suffering from mental illness. In 2016, in the United States, an estimated 6.7% of all adults had at least one major depressive episode and an estimated 19.1% of all adults dealt with an anxiety disorder. 1 in 5 Americans will experience some sort of mental illness in their lifetime. These are your friends, family, or co-workers. Whether you are aware of it or not, chances are, you know someone who is dealing with or has dealt with some mental health issues.

Therapy is proven to be effective in treating these conditions, however, many people avoid seeking therapy. They imagine it’s just for the seriously mentally ill or the rich or not for people of color or not for men. However, therapy can have a tremendous impact on anyone looking for more productive, effective ways of dealing with the everyday stress of day-to-day life. As a matter of fact, most of my clients that come to see me for therapy do not have a “serious” mental illness, but are just having some difficulties or challenges with day-to-day life. The truth of the matter is, therapy can help all of us!

There are also numerous disparities in mental health among minority populations that must be addressed. African-American adults, for example, are still 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than their white counterparts, yet they are less likely to receive or have access to treatment for common mental health issues such as depression. Additionally, too many old myths about psychotherapy and mental health issues continues to persist and hinder needed changes and access to treatment.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing any mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, or just struggling with day-to-day life, here are some things that you can do:

  • Find a Therapist

There are lots of websites to assist you with finding a therapist. A few are www.psychologytoday.com and www.therapyforblackgirls.com, If you have insurance, you can also contact your insurance company for a list of therapists in network with your insurance company. Most therapists will conduct a brief free phone consultation to see if you are a good fit for each other. Personally, if I feel that a potential client and myself aren’t a good fit, I try to provide them with a referral for another therapist. Many therapists may do the same. Also, keep in mind, that with many things, finding the “right” therapist for you sometimes take “trial and error”. Try not to get discouraged. Keep looking until you find a therapist that is a good fit for you (however, that doesn’t mean trying to find a therapist that’s only going to tell you what you want to hear and not therapeutically and ethically challenge you).

  • Know How to Help Someone in a Crisis

As stated earlier, about 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health issues in their lifetime. These are our friends and family members, to name a few, who may be experiencing symptoms of mental health issues that aren’t obvious or may be trying their best to keep it to themselves and suffering in silence. One important thing is to let them know you are there for them. You may have to initiate the conversation by stating your observation, in a caring and empathetic way, and want to know how they are doing…basically, just checking on them. You can also keep resources on hand, learn how to recognize the signs, and know where you would go for help if someone you care about were to experience a crisis.

  • Share Your Experiences

Whether it’s a story about your own current or past therapy or how your life is impacted by a mental health issue or day-to-day challenges that you face. Sharing your experiences can be powerful for you and others.

  • Understand How Your Words Can Contribute to Stigma

Stigma toward mental health issues and treatment often stems from the way we come to understand concepts through the media and other people. Many commonly used phrases can contribute to misunderstanding and a reluctance to seek treatment for fear of being perceived as “weak” or “crazy”. Help challenge the stigma by spending some time thinking and reading about how words and experiences may feel from a different perspective.

  • Take Care of Yourself

One of the best ways we can contribute to improved mental health and better relationships is to make sure that we are managing ourselves and meeting our own needs aka SELF CARE! Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am always trying to encourage others (and myself) to practice self-care. For people who tend to help others first, this can feel selfish and difficult, however, it may be helpful to apply the same concept in which airline crews tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

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