Mental Health Awareness Month: How to show and receive support

May is National Mental Health Awareness month in the U.S. For nearly 70 years, the country has joined together to encourage awareness of mental health topics and resources through community events, the media, and partnerships with local agencies for screenings and additional resources.

End the stigmamental health support graphic

Although negative stigmas can exist against individuals with a mental health diagnosis, these conditions are more common than one might realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experiences a mental health condition during a given year, and one in 25 adults experiences a mental health condition that significantly interferes with at least one major life activity. These individuals may be our friends, family or loved ones, as well as ourselves, who may be experiencing visible or non-noticeable symptoms.

Recently, the conversation surrounding these issues has become more prominent, through TV shows, celebrity posts, literary works, and podcasts focusing on mental health topics. While these can offer conversational opportunities and normalizing of mental health conditions, it can also lead to increased negative stigmas or unintentionally encourage idealization of harmful outlets.

Some argue that suicide rates could climb if the conversations are not discussed in a healthy way, for example, promoting compassion, empathy, and understanding. This year, NAMI created the campaign #CureStigma as part of their goal to spread awareness. This is one of the many reasons why recognition of National Mental Health Awareness Month is crucial, as people need to continue to develop emotional intelligence and be equipped with helpful tools.

There is a misconception that only large-scale efforts can be helpful towards supporting those with a mental health condition. However, there are several ways to offer assistance to those around you. Below are three key ideas for support and resources.

Know the signs

One of the first steps in being able to identify and help someone dealing with a mental health condition is being aware of signs that could indicate concern. Although many of these symptoms can be intertwined with feelings associated with stress, general sadness or other non-harmful contexts, it is better to check in than to wonder “what if” later.

NAMI provides a more in-depth list on its website; common signs include:

  • Excessive anxiety or feelings of sadness
  • Confusion or lack of concentration
  • Severe and frequent mood swings
  • Withdrawals from peers, family, and previously enjoyed activities
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Substance use or self harm
  • Talk of or idealization of suicide

Conditions such as substance dependence, abuse, self-harm, and suicide are preventable. For more information on mental illness, resources, receiving help and ways to take action, please visit the NAMI website.

Learn simple therapeutic skills

There are several ways that individuals can initiate conversations with others concerning mental health issues without an awkward or harsh confrontation. In our ever-busy society, it’s easy to forget to simply be present and mindful during our time with others. While it may seem difficult to adopt a therapeutic stance, all that is required is to focus on the present moment, and offer compassion and support.

Below are seven skills that can be embraced during conversations, both daily and in times of concern, that help to develop emotional intelligence:

This skill is crucial for learning about others. Staying in the present can be difficult, so some tips include focusing on what is right in front of you through the senses, such as fabric of clothing or sounds, and focusing on breathing. Also, consider disconnecting from your phone during these moments.

Remaining calm during conversations will help loved ones feel comforted in times of need.

Staying honest will instill a sense of trust in the relationship, which can encourage more disclosure.

Non-judgmental attitude
This will help create a safe space for your friend or family member during conversations.

Embrace empathy
Having empathy means to understand and share the feelings of another. Different from sympathy, empathy shows that you truly recognize their struggle.

Be resourceful
Having ideas of where to go for help and media to explore can be an asset for individuals who feel hopeless or at a loss with their struggles.

Reassure and encourage
Most important, we must help our friend or family member find hope. While we need to be careful to not dismiss struggles and provide a meaningless, “It’ll get better” attitude, it is important to empathize and support their journey towards healing.

For more information on how to support those in need, please check out the American Psychology Association website for more detailed resources.

Resources and finding support

If you or a loved one are looking for help, there are several organizations that provide over-the-phone guidance. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides confidential assistance from trained therapists 24/7. The National Institute of Mental Health provides information for finding a local clinic, treatment center, or therapist for specific crises or issues. Additionally, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has online screening tools individuals can complete as a guide to bring to their primary care physician.

Local resources are also available for immediate assistance. Summitstone Health Partners in Fort Collins provides a confidential crisis hotline and walk-in clinic that is available 24/7, as well as a Crisis Stabilization Unit for up to 5 days and a Mobile Crisis Response service for counselors to travel to your site. North Range Behavioral Health in Greeley also has a 24/7 crisis phone service, a walk-in clinic, and a comprehensive set of services for all ages and situations.

Story contributor Amanda Dudley is a graduate student in the Counseling and Career Development master’s degree program in the School of Education, part of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

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