Mental Health Awareness Month is Over, What Now?
Image Credit: Artist: DirtyBandits, photography by Graham Burns
Each year, Americans get more and more accustomed to the fact that mental health is in the same classification as physical health. Over the past few months, I’ve seen an unprecedented amount of celebrities, friends, acquaintances, and family members come forward with their own mental health experiences. Support is steadily growing across the social media landscape for those facing substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, and self-harm. May was deemed Mental Health Awareness month in 1949. Why has it taken 70 years for mental health to become less of a taboo? Why does the stigma still overshadow people in need?
Just five years ago, I was afraid to tell many people about my bipolar 1 diagnosis. I was embarrassed about seeing a therapist and worried about being judged by others who don’t understand what mania is. Now I’ll blurt it out on a Tinder date because why should I hide who I am? No one should ever feel alone in their minds. Mental Health Awareness month is over, but I don’t want the outpouring of encouragement in the mental health community to dry up. Here are a few things you can do to continue to show your support for mental health awareness, not only in May, but as long as it takes to sink the stigma and to lift up love for one another.
Share Your Story
It is hard to admit when your mind is sick because mental illness has been masquerading as weakness. Owning up to your struggles and being honest about your feelings is brave, bold, and strong. It takes courage to ask for help. Go at your own pace. Tell someone you trust about your mounting anxiety. Call a mental health support line if you’d like to confide troubling thoughts or feelings in an anonymous supporter. When more people share personal stories of mental health struggles, less people will feel ostracized in their emotions. Additionally, more transparency reduces the stigma surrounding mental illness, and promotes normalization and acceptance.
Support Mental Health Causes and Initiatives
Trust me, I know a lot of millennials are short on finances. I’m swimming in that sea myself. But there are so many ways to support mental health causes without spending lots of money.
If you are touched by a meaningful cause, promote it on social media and by word of mouth. My friend and mentor, Samantha Schutz (@sam_shutz), author of inspiring Young Adult mental health memoir, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, teamed up with graphic artist Annica Lydenberg (@dirtybandits), to launch a mural series in support of mental health advocacy. If you’re an NYC #culturegirl, I strongly recommend you visit the You Are Not Alone murals at three locations in Brooklyn. Even if you’re not local, share these beautiful images on your social media to spread messages of positivity and support. The three artists who worked on this series, Annica, Adam Fu (@adamfu), and Jason Naylor (@jasonnaylor), used their creativity to support mental health awareness in the coolest way. Do your part to search out community events and opportunities like these murals that surround mental health and celebrate peace & love. Tweet about it, post about it, shout about it on your stories--heck, even tell the cashier at your favorite coffee shop.
Volunteer for a walk or 5K! You usually have to crowdfund and raise donations for these experiences, but it’s such a rewarding process. Every year I walk in the Out of Darkness Suicide Walk to Fight Suicide through the American Society of Suicide Prevention in honor of my close friend. See if there are any events coming up in your area.
You can’t help someone else if you don’t help yourself. We are so hard on our bodies, minds, and emotions. I know that I have a habit of calling myself names when I’m in a bad mood and I often harbor feelings of jealousy and low self-esteem. It’s unhealthy to be mean to yourself! I do my best to be an optimistic and positive person, but I find myself swept into negative thought spirals as much as anyone. Luckily, you can find inspiration and support from all over to make you feel less alone in your fight for serenity. Empathy goes a long way.
Listen to music! Watch out for my playlist of songs on the Her Culture Spotify account that inspire self-confidence and solidarity in mental health awareness. You can make your own playlist specifically for those moments of darkness. Fill it with songs that feel like hugs when the melody creeps into your ear canals. Put songs in that remind you of happy times in your life or of people you love. Collect jams that tell stories in the music. Turn your playlist up when you need a boost or some relaxation.
Create! Everyone can be an artist in their own way. Sketch silly drawings of sunshine even if you don’t feel like the next Van Gogh. Write poems, stories, and self-reflections. It’s cathartic to funnel frustrations into a creation if you don’t feel like venting to a friend. The pressure to be successful at hobbies can be hard to overcome, but every creator starts somewhere. Just do your own thing and try not to compare what you’re working on to someone else’s work. Consider submitting words and art to You Make Me Feel Less Alone, a companion to the murals I mentioned earlier.
Suicide rates have risen each year since 2008. With an evolving society in technology, environment, and politics comes the harsh reality that hate breeds and continues to breed in all spaces we frequent with our minds and bodies. We must stand together to stamp out the pressure we all face as human beings with pulses and pumping hearts. Support spreads like a wave at a baseball game. The more hands that raise, the more hands that join the wave. Show your support. End the stigma.