Five Things to Do During the Remainder of Mental Health Awareness Month

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

In today’s message-saturated culture, it can sometimes be challenging to prioritize attention and then to sustain and direct that attention to action. Taking time to become more aware of mental health issues including parity, cultural competence among mental health practitioners, current reform efforts, and disorder symptoms and treatment is well worth the effort. Consider these eye-opening stats provided on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website:

MH Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.

MH Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.

MH 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

MH An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

MH 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.

So even though you might have intended to do more this month, take heart. There is still plenty that can be done to participate in one of the most important themed observances of the year.

1 Read a book that focuses on mental health

Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic, and Fear by Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett

Though published 13 years ago in 2003, this book is ready to be re-discovered by a new group of women, advocates, and practitioners. Dr. Neal-Barnett’s passion to help women understand the puzzling experiences they have related to fear and anxiety is evident in every chapter. She begins by recalling how her interest became a mandate. Everywhere she went it seemed that women were beckoning her to the side at the grocery store, catching her in the foyer before and after church, and writing to her about emotions they were having that they didn’t understand. Many of them were distressed over their distress. Dr. Neal-Barnett wants to equip women, particularly black women, with the tools they need to face head on the situations and people that make them anxious and afraid. In a very manageable 192 pages, she manages to cover the nuts and bolts of anxiety disorders, cognitive behavior therapy, integration of faith principles with treatment and therapy, and a resource guide, among other chapters.  Reading this book is a sound investment in self-care and mental health.

 Welcome to My Breakdown: A Memoir by Benilde Little

A bestselling author shares her sobering encounter with depression after her mother dies. A black woman talking openly about depression, unrelenting sadness, and feelings of helplessness is noteworthy enough, but Little’s story is all the more engrossing because it implicates issues of privilege, class, geography, and vocation in an unusual and enlightening way.

Black Men and Depression: Saving Our Lives, Healing Our Families and Friends by John Heard

Yes, black men get depressed, too, and Mr. Heard wants to strip away the stigma and silence that accompany that fact. His book is partly autobiographical but also a solid primer on depression as a mental illness. Covering such topics as suicide, the intersection of racism and depression, and personal insights in the chapter, Depression is a Tough Row to Hoe, is just as spot-on relevant as it was pioneering when written in 2005.

2 Get yourself or a loved one screened

Mental Health America has a web portal dedicated to self-directed screening for various mental health conditions. Anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and psychosis are among the disorders included. The plain language descriptions of each screening tool make everything uber user friendly, and the screening for parents to help determine if their young person is at risk.

3 Check in with family and friends

Family and friends don’t let family and friends live unwell. Mental health and illness are hard to talk about, even to those with whom we have close or intimate relationships. Take some of the pressure off by taking advantage of this ready-made opportunity to broach subjects usually avoided any other time of the year. Explore web sites like Ourselves | Black together, start a mental health book club, or get three or four others to join you for a 45-minute session of Text, Talk, Act, a social campaign created by Creating Community Solutions. The point is to find out how your people are doing—*really* doing.

4 Speak up! Learn about the current mental health reform bills in Congress

There are two bills progressing through the legislative process that focus on mental health (yes!). Senate bill 2680 (S. 2680), the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, is a bipartisan bill sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats with potential to change how mental health services are accessed, and by whom, as well as shoring up the administrative agencies responsible for overseeing the processes. S. 2680 is especially promising because of its Title IV provisions which focus on treatment and recovery for homeless persons, jail diversion programs, suicide prevention, and a minority fellowship program.

The House version of mental reform is H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015, sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-PA and Rep. Eddie Johnson, D-Texas.

Research the bills and contact your congressperson and senator(s) to voice your support and encourage them to support this critical legislation, too.

5 Make one commitment to guard/restore your mental health

Rather than talking a good game, take it up a notch and get serious about taking control of your mental and emotional health. Join a group like Girl Trek to walk off the stress. Develop a method of de-escalating conflict and arguments. Intentionally find one thing every day to laugh at. Sign up for training like Mental Health First Aid. This isn’t a test, so there’s no one right or wrong answer, the important thing is to DO something!