Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Stopping the Stigma Around Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This time marks an opportunity to openly discuss issues surrounding mental health; encourage individuals to take a free, mental health test; and hopefully, end the stigma surrounding mental health. Mental health issues affect millions of people and can impact day-to-day living. By continuing to promote mental health, we can all play a role in ending the stigma surrounding it.

You’re Not Alone

While one in five people struggle with a mental illness, almost all of us will experience challenges to our mental health at some point in our lives. However, less than half of adults with mental illness actually receive treatment. And on average, it takes an individual about 11 years to seek treatment after the first symptoms of mental illness appear.

Struggling with mental illness isn’t like suffering from a physical ailment. Take a broken arm for example; you can actually see a broken arm and know the individual has a health condition. People don’t feel uncomfortable asking, “How are you feeling?” More importantly, having a broken arm doesn’t pose a threat to impact the relationship between friendships, family, or even coworkers. Unfortunately, those struggling with mental illness don’t openly talk about it, for fear they may be judged or make others uncomfortable. And due to the stigma surrounding mental health, some are reluctant to seek the help they need.

Increased Anxiety Related to COVID-19

It’s hard to discuss mental health without talking about the impact COVID-19 has had on many of us. The stress of COVID-19 has negatively affected nearly 45 percent of adults in the United States. Stress can affect our sleep, worsen pre-existing health conditions, and increase the likelihood of substance abuse. While this is a stressful situation, I’ve personally found more people checking in on my mental health during this time, which offers a glimpse of hope that checking in on other’s mental health becomes the new norm.

But stress and anxiety aren’t the only effects of the current situation. Many have stated that they have experienced feelings of guilt related to COVID-19, whether that’s feeling guilty about having a job, not being able to help out enough, etc. I know I’ve experienced some of this. Harboring this much guilt isn’t healthy and can actually lead to some destructive behavior. A tip for changing the narrative in your head is to make a list of things you’re grateful for instead of focusing on what you can’t control.

Ending The Stigma

Ending the stigma isn’t going to happen overnight, but there are things we can do that can make a difference. Education is a powerful tool in changing the conversation surrounding mental health. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has numerous articles and graphics on mental health. They even have a list of local NAMI affiliate groups that you can join for support.

Sharing personal stories will also help end the stigma around mental health. Take Ryan Bonnici’s story for example. In Ryan’s episode on Mobile Matters, he shares his own experience with mental health issues and discussed that since he has opened up about his own mental health issues, people have started to share their own stories with him…even his co-workers. Ryan also mentioned he now views his co-workers, “less by the results they do at work, and rather as a whole person with so many layers to them.” Talking openly about mental health can have a ripple effect, as demonstrated with Ryan’s story. As more people start to openly discuss mental health, many may feel more comfortable seeking the treatment they need.

Mental Health and the Workplace

On Mobile Matters, we’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with several other industry leaders about issues surrounding mental health related to the workplace. A topic that frequently comes up is finding a healthy work-life balance. In the Mobile Matters’ episode with Peter Schroeder, he reminded us to carve out personal time in the morning, “Make a cup of tea or coffee and kind of just do something on your own, make sure that you get out for walks during the day and actually see sunlight.”

And finally, Ashley Shailer reminded us that we can’t do it all. 91 percent of people have reported having an unmanageable amount of stress at work. Ashley’s advice is to, “Set boundaries for yourself and then have confidence in those boundaries.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, visit Mental Health America’s website to get the information you need. Let’s continue to check-in with each other and help end the stigma around mental health together.