December 10, 2021

Mental Health Awareness

Marleigh Giliberto
What is mental health awareness?

We have all heard of mental health awareness, and as a society, we are beginning to understand the importance of mental health. In the US, however, how we perceive the meaning of mental health varies greatly.  

I think what mental health awareness encapsulates can be surprising to many. Mental health is still too often associated only for those who suffer from “mental illness”, or those with diagnosable disorders that interfere with their daily life functioning.  

Mental illness is an important aspect of mental health awareness, but only describes a small sector. In reality, mental health awareness applies to everyone. Consider going to a check-up from your physician. Check-ups are once a year appointments in which your primary care doctor inspects your body to make sure everything is functioning correctly, and to catch any early indicators of later disease. Majority of patients attend this physical without any complaints or concerns about their overall health. Mental health awareness takes a similar approach. The idea is to make sure our minds are healthy, functioning correctly, to screen for current or future illness, and to ensure our minds are not interfering with our living a normal life!

The importance of mental health awareness

If you have a physical ailment, such as pain in your left arm, what do you do? You could wait to see if the pain subsides, or you could go to the doctor to get a professional opinion about what could be wrong. The same approach should apply to mental health. If our minds are not functioning properly, it can be nearly impossible to complete daily obligations and even hobbies or pleasurable activities that normally bring you joy. It is important for us, therefore, to be conscious of changes in our mental health so we can get back to feeling normal quickly, and prevent any further illness. Some early warning signs for mental health problems from mentalhealth.gov  are:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can't get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

This is where mental health can get confusing. In looking at the list of symptoms above, it is probable that many of us have experienced these symptoms at one time in our life. Though the presence of one of these symptoms does not signal mental illness in and of itself, experiencing these symptoms can be very disruptive to daily functioning. The purpose of mental health awareness is for us to be precautionary, and to be conscious of normal, and abnormal symptoms of the mind. Eating or sleeping too much or too little, in comparison to normal eating or sleeping habits, can signal disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder, but it can also signal distress in someone’s life that needs to be addressed. 

How do we spread mental health awareness?

America is facing a cultural epidemic in regards to the stigmatization of mental health. For too long mental illness has been viewed as a weakness, and mental health has taken a back seat to more comprehensible sciences like biology. In reality, one of our biggest weakness as humans is ignoring our mental health. I believe mental health awareness is getting better in the US, however, there are many steps that need to be taken in order for mental health awareness to be taken as seriously as physical health.

First, and most importantly, mental health awareness needs to be as common and accepted as physical health. Mental illness needs to stop being associated with insanity or weakness, and instead treated with the same urgency and respect as patients diagnosed with cancer. 

Second, mental health needs to be taken as seriously as physical health. For example, if one has a broken arm, they will go to the doctor, and take proper precautions to make sure the arm heals (such as wearing a cast and resting the broken bone). The same process should be considered for mental health. If someone begins showing symptoms, for example, major depressive disorder, they should feel comfortable in meeting with a psychiatrist, and taking the proper precautions to make sure their “depression heals” (such as possibly taking medication, going to therapy, taking time to focus on self care). 

Finally, mental health should be discussed openly, and without shame, in our society. People need to be able to talk about going to therapy, and be treated similarly to one who announces they’re visiting the doctor. People need to be able to discuss their afflictions with mental illness, however mild or severe, and be treated with the sympathy and concern awarded to those with cancer, or heart disease, for example. People need to be taught early on the importance of self care, and the positive effects it has on current and future mental health. Exercising, for example, is commonly preached for keeping the body healthy, and preventing future illness. Taking time for oneself to be alone, decompress, and not worry about the responsibilities for the day is a great self care tactic that can reduce daily stress, and prevent the possible development of mental disorders. Here are a few suggestions from mentalhealth.gov on how to maintain positive mental health:

  • Getting professional help if you need it
  • Connecting with others
  • Staying positive
  • Getting physically active
  • Helping others
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Developing  coping skills

Mental Health Awareness Month: May 1-31

Resources:

https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Health-Awareness-Month

https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/tools-resources/individuals/index.htm

https://socialworklicensemap.com/social-work-resources/mental-health-resources-list/

Citations: What is mental health? (2020, May 28). mental health.gov. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, my name is Marleigh Giliberto, and I am a junior studying clinical psychology at Tufts University. I run track and field on the varsity team, and spend the rest of my time learning about psychology, and preaching mental health awareness in everything I do. In the future, I hope to be a clinical psychologist specializing in adolescents and young adults dealing with anxiety and depression.