Every May, individuals in the United States observe Mental Health Awareness month. But what does this actually mean in real terms? And what about the eleven remaining months of the year? As someone who always found Black History month (the shortest month of the year, political-prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal once quipped) and Women’s History month (March…arguably the month many folks are just trying to make it through to get to spring), has done little to raise constant awareness and make critical, demonstrative interventions and long-standing statements about the plights of these marginalized communities. So how does play out for Mental Health awareness?
Well, firstly: have you even heard anyone mention it?
Secondly: have you mentioned it to anyone?
If not, you’re far from alone. And it’s not too late!
(A quick aside: March 1st, my birthday, is also National Self Injury Awareness Day. Last last, I requested that my friends and allies wear an orange ribbon–the color that denotes SI/SH awareness–as a “present.” So, next March 1st, wear a bit of orange. Okay?)
And so, back to the topic at hand. Mental Health Awareness May started in 1949 as an initiative to stop the silencing and stigmatization of myriad behavioral health crises, and to reveal their true function: one of a chronic illness, not a marker of a “crazy” person who can simply “get over it.” This year, Mental Health America (MHA) is taking up two important initiatives, and it’s never too late to become a part of it! (Toolkits for both initiatives are available as PDFs on their site.)
DO MORE FOR 1 IN 4:
One in four people in the US have been diagnosed with a Behavioral Health ailment. MHA’s Do More For One In Four campaign “is a call to action to help the 1 in 4 American adults who live with a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition and that they can go on to live full and productive lives.” MHA’s helpful tookit, which you can download from their front page, has a wealth of information to aid in bolstering awareness/consciousness-raising around issues affecting survivors most directly; justly positioning and empowering those who have experienced behavioral health illnesses to lead the discussion. The toolkit contains audio public service announcements, sample press releases, various fact sheets (e.g., on the different classes of therapy, issues regarding medication, and where to go for help depending on one’s economic and sociopolitical situation), and a plethora of easy to read informational guides about various illnesses, including ADHD, Anxiety disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and worksheets for family, friends, and allies to further comprehend and apply proper aid and solidarity to/with someone with a chronic behavioral illness with MHA approved support strategies.
Importantly, MHA stresses that the May’s Mental Health awareness plans should, when possible, come from those who are directly affected. While MHA makes clear that it is essential for allies to look after their own well-being as well, an exceedingly important fact is made plan, and is at the root of the struggle for self-identification for folks who chronic behavioral disabilities: that any type of caretaker must “always respect the individual’s need for and right to privacy[as a] person with a mental illness has the same right to be treated with dignity and respect as any other person.”
HEALING TRAUMA’S INVISIBLE WOUNDS:
The second major undertaking of MHA this May is their Healing Trauma’s Invisible Wounds program. Why? Because trauma can happen to anyone at any age–and even an entire community. There are many types of trauma–some of which are not readily apparent. Additionally, toxic self-shaming, largely resultant of a cultural where externalized supremacy can force a victim into silence, sometimes obscures the fact that a loved one is being brutalized; and because the types of violence that cause trauma are so varied, even close allies may not recognize what is truly happening to their loved one, and the baneful effects that may follow. The Healing Trauma’s Invisible Wounds seeks to make public the types of life-changing events that can cause trauma, particularly those which are often obscured by society writ large. For example, living under threat; childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or neglect; experiencing anything one feels is violent or highly invasive; being bullied; living through a natural disaster, war, or other form of upheaval; serving in combat; and/or witnessing something terrible happen to another person or group of people
Arguably, the most detrimental effect of experiencing trauma is the exceptionally high risk of developing PTSD, a condition that can completely re-frame the way one experiences daily life. As the link to suicidal ideation or even action is quite direct, it is imperative comrades of those who may be at risk for developing PTSD (or possibly are already quietly suffering from it) familiarize themselves with the most common symptoms. They include reliving the trauma/flashback; being constantly on guard or hyper-aroused; avoiding reminders of the trauma; panic attacks; physical symptoms (i.e., chronic pain); feelings of mistrust; problems in daily living/functionality; substance abuse; relationship problems; depression; and suicidal ideation.
This toolkit, like most of MHA’s work, is positive at heart. It helps navigate the ground those who are faced with trauma walk: from victim to survivor; and stresses how the “wounds caused by traumatic experiences can heal [and] with the proper treatment, support, and self care, recovery is possible for everyone. Similarly to the Help 1 In 4 documentation, the tookit on trauma offers extremely useful and frank fact sheets, sample press releases, information about getting assistance for a loved one and/or for a person affected by trauma directly to find a safe space, and declarations of what we, as community members, must demand viz-a-viz safety for all.
Half the month is left.
So let’s go, but not stop on the 30th, for this is an everyday conversation, in which we must take the lead.
Mental Health America
2000 N. Beauregard Street, 6th floor, Alexandria, VA 2231
Phone: (703) 684-772 / Toll free: (800) 969-664 / Fax: (703) 684-5968
*MHA has a brilliant contact sheet for various struggles. It is available here: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/find_support_group
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
3803 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203
Phone: (703) 524-7600 / Fax: (703) 524-9094 / Helpline: (800) 950-6264
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(I have used NSPL on several occasions. They are absolutely amazing. Truly.)