May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the course of the past several years, our Vista Hill SmartCare teams have been utilizing the National health, behavioral health and social issue topics of each month as a best practice of promoting awareness of wellness topics and supporting healthy live-style choices. One of the primary missions of our integrative behavioral health care program, partnered with rural health care clinics, is to help with eradicating the stigma of mental illness. By providing information on these various topics, and encouraging conversations at our clinic sites, local schools, senior centers, libraries and other venues, we hope to break down barriers for those that might not normally seek out support for mental health services.
Topics are wide spread and diverse: Suicide Prevention Month, Blood Pressure Screening Month, Depression Screening Month, Autism Awareness Month, Heart Health Month, Domestic Violence Prevention Month, AIDS and HIV Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month and Safe Driving Month, Bullying Prevention Month and numerous others.
As we prepared for Mental Health Awareness Month this year, possibly the most significant awareness topic of each year, I began to ponder about our approach. “Awareness” is defined as ‘the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding’.
Clearly, most of us are already very “aware” of mental health, as well as of mental illness. And so I wondered if we are addressing “stigma” as best as we could, stigma being defined as “a mark of disgrace or infamy associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person”. We hope that by providing education on various behavioral health topics, and providing interventions for patients within their health care settings, in a holistic and integrative approach, that we are beginning to eradicate the stigma of mental health and behavioral health issues for our patients and the members of the communities that we serve.
Our reality is that between 42.5 to 46 million adults in the U.S. have some type of mental illness, or one in four adults experience mental illness in a given year. Mental health conditions are as common as other health conditions. Just as someone afflicted with cancer wouldn’t say, “I’m cancer”, someone with a bi-polar disorder wouldn’t say, “I’m bi-polar”. Neither person is their illness. Part of eradicating the stigma of mental health issues is in the language and verbiage we choose. Mental illnesses may be “brain disorders”, but they affect the body as well, which is why we choose our integrative approach to interventions, including sleep hygiene, pain management, nutrition, exercise and others.
This approach, and my thought process about May, brings me to Mindfulness: maintaining a moment to moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment. Even more significantly this month, Mindfulness involves an acceptance of a condition or situation, without judgment, without labeling them as right or wrong, good or bad.
I suggest then, that May be recognized as Mental Health Mindfulness Month: moving beyond awareness, and embracing an acceptance, without judgment.
For additional support, please consider http://bevocalspeakup.com/ and https://namisandiego.org/
And for a bit of an artistic and creative look at mental illness:
Pamela Sachs, LCSW