May and Beyond: Mental Health Awareness Month

Authors: Tuğçe Özdemir and Guadalupe Farah

When discussing mental health issues or illnesses, it’s essential to recognize that these conditions impact a person’s thoughts, emotions, behavior, and mood. These effects can significantly influence everyday life and relationships with others. 

Have you ever wondered what leads to mental health conditions?

It’s not one thing – it’s a combination of factors. Genetics, environment, and lifestyle all play a role in whether someone develops a mental health condition. For instance, a stressful job or home life, along with traumatic events, can make some individuals more vulnerable. Regardless, having a mental health condition doesn’t make you “broken” or imply that you, or your family, did something “wrong”. Mental illness is not anyone’s fault. 

That’s why every year since 1949, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Originating in America, this month kicks off with Mental Health America releasing a toolkit around mid-March, providing materials to guide outreach efforts. Throughout May, various organizations focused on mental health host diverse activities.

But why dedicate a whole month to this cause?

Numerous institutions across Europe, UN agencies, and the World Health Organization have all acknowledged the pressing need for commitment and action on mental health. Often, the significance of mental well-being in our daily lives is underestimated, and a stigma surrounds it, adversely affecting those grappling with mental health issues. This is precisely why Mental Health Awareness Month exists, gaining increasing public support each year.

This year, Mental Health Europe commemorates its fifth Mental Health Awareness Week from May 13th to 19th. On their website, they encourage individuals to get involved in numerous ways, such as attending in-person or online events, advocating for mental health to express solidarity, wearing a green ribbon as a symbol of support, and initiating conversations within our communities. "Share, teach, and learn."

We all have our quirks and unique ways of reacting to life’s twists and turns. But how do we differentiate between “expected behaviors” and potential signs of mental health conditions? This is not always easy, and there is no simple test to determine this. 

Each mental health condition has its unique set of symptoms, but there are some common signs that both adults and teens might experience. These include excessive worrying or fear; feeling excessively sad or low; confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning; extreme mood changes; prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger; avoiding friends and social activities you used to love; difficulties understanding or relating to other people; changes in sleeping habits or feeling tires and low energy; changes in eating habits; difficulty perceiving reality; inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality; overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs; and inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress. And there are plenty more signs out there, but if you’re experiencing any of these signs, it’s important to reach out for help!

Unfortunately, health systems around the world remain significantly under-resourced and treatment gaps wide. Stigma around mental health causes people with mental health conditions to face discriminations and even human rights violations.

However, the road to recovery starts with the most important step: choosing the right mix of treatments and supports that work for you. The National Alliance on Mental Health has a segment on their website where they thoroughly talk about treatments. And they clearly state “There is no “one size fits all” treatment.” 

On the journey to feeling better, there are lots of ways to help yourself. Things like medication, talking with a therapist, getting support from friends and family, and learning about your condition are all helpful. Therapy can be different for everyone, from simple relaxation techniques to changing the way you think. And having people who care about you and encourage you is also really important. On top of these learning about your condition and how to manage it, along with any other health issues you might have, can give you the tools you need to feel better overall. Of course, to find a well-rounded treatment mix is not easy as it sounds. But there are also non-traditional alternatives out there that are known to have help those with health conditions. Physical activities such as yoga, meditation, tai chi and just even exercise can help improving your mental health. And some people even prefer to take natural supplements like vitamins and minerals. However, for those who are already taking medication, always check in with your doctor first as even simple vitamins may interact with medication.

So… how can we support our loved ones who have mental health conditions?

Supporting someone with mental health issues requires patience, understanding, and care. Start by learning about their specific condition, including symptoms and treatments. Be empathetic and non-judgmental, offering kindness and support. Help with daily tasks to reduce stress and bring stability. Create a safe environment where they feel comfortable expressing themselves. Respect their boundaries and don't pressure them into anything they're not ready for. Stay connected and keep communication open with their support network. Your ongoing support can truly make a positive impact on their journey to wellness.

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