This post was written by Connie Kerrigan, MBA, BSN, RN, director, Community Support Services, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute.
Since 1949, May has been National Mental Health Month. Personally, I was shocked when I learned that the observance dated back that far, since it really feels as though it was only recently put in place. Why is that? I believe it must be related to stigma, since the beliefs have been, and still are at times, that mental illnesses and addictions are a choice. Stigma in that only the closest of our family and friends may know our struggles, lest we be seen as less than by our communities, co-workers, schools and places of worship.
We openly discuss heart health, joint pain and cancer without judgment. Everyone rallies around us, wishing us the best, organizing meal trains, running errands, helping with children and pets, ensuring we have what we need to fight the good fight and overcome our illness. Sadly, the same doesn’t hold if someone has a mental illness or addiction. People shy away, ignore the subject, and rarely offer support, as they would for other health-related needs.
The lack of awareness around mental health has intensified and catapulted our country to the brink of a mental health breaking point. The world we once knew is no more. The internet and social media now rule our lives, in some ways for the better and others to our detriment.
A subtle shift
As more people share their journeys and the impact mental health care has had on their lives or those they know and love, the stigma is slowly starting to soften.
Employers, schools and churches recognize or are beginning to realize that mental health is an essential aspect of physical and spiritual health. They are promoting more open discussion and understanding when the mental health of their employees or congregants is not at their best.
I’m proud to work for an organization that prioritizes mental health and is working hard to support the mental and emotional well-being of its employees and the community. Parkview recently announced that co-workers can take two paid mental health days off each year! Ideas such as this are essential for many reasons, but chef among them is condoning the fact that it’s OK to need a day off to recoup and recover, not only when you are physically ill, but also taxed from a mental health standpoint. Second, this offering opens up the conversation around the notion that it’s OK not to be OK. It’s normal to need to step back and breathe for a bit. And finally, the events of our daily lives are bound to impact our mental and emotional health, and we should plan to manage the effects of that to avoid bigger setbacks down the road.
Making May matter
What can we do as a community to keep the momentum around normalizing mental health care growing? Start the conversation! Let’s make it OK for someone to need help and, if we know someone who is dealing with a mental illness, take them a casserole, offer to walk the dog, take the kids for the afternoon, or even just be there to listen. Together, we can continue to reduce the stigma, improve support, and help ourselves and others live the lives we all deserve.
If you are someone you know needs help, call the PBHI HelpLine at 260-471-9440 or toll free at 800-284-8439, anytime 24 hours a day. Our experienced specialists can answer your questions, provide recommendations and help arrange care.