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Mental Health Awareness! ✨🧠

Editor's Note: There is a lot trending online at the moment about mental health awareness. Different counties have different national holidays and themed months, and May seems to be this time for the US and the UK.


Most of Australia's mental health awareness days are in October (see: LAYMH).

But! There is always time for some discussions around mental health, especially coming out of a pandemic-filled few years, so here is some information to hopefully inspire you to start the conversation with your friends, family and loved ones about mental health awareness.

 

What is Mental Health?

The terms "mental health" and "mental illness" are sometimes used in the same way, but they have different meanings.


“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” Source

Mental health affects every aspects of our lives.


Mental illnesses are diagnosed conditions (with a set of criteria that needs to be met) that affect thoughts and behaviours. They can be caused by factors like genes, brain chemistry, or trauma; but, anyone can have a mental illness - regardless of age, socioeconomic class, gender, or race.


Everyone can and will have moments of poor mental health, but not everyone has a mental illness. On the other hand, someone with a mental illness can recover and achieve sound mental health.


I like to think about the brain as another muscle - just as you might go and strengthen your arms or legs in the gym with specific exercises, there are ways to strengthen your brain and improve the way you think about and manage emotions.


Now I'm not a gym junkie by any means, but let's keep using this as an example. If you're not really going to the gym or exercising regularly, then you cannot expect to improve your fitness. If you neglect to nurture your mental health, and don't make time to practice things that can strengthen your brain, this can have negative impacts like increased stress, low mood, poor self-esteem, and other symptoms of mental ill-health.

 

What is Mental Health Awareness?


Awareness comes from the root word aware, which means "having or showing realisation, perception, or knowledge".


It suggests an action to be taken - to show what you know about something in order to help others make sense of it, reduce stigma, and generally educate people about something meaningful.


There are a lot of ways to raise awareness about mental health - whether that's through social media, advocating for legislative change, or simply having conversations with friends or family in private. However you do want to take action, the important thing is to find a way that is most comfortable for you.

 

There are a few different themes for 2022 around mental health awareness.


The green ribbon is the international symbol for mental health awareness.


Wear a green ribbon, or simply just add something green to your outfit, to show people around you that you care about their mental health. It can also be worn in memory of someone.







 

In the US, the theme seems to be "back to basics".


"After the last two years of pandemic living, many people are realizing that stress, isolation, and uncertainty have taken a toll on their well-being.

So the focus this year is on providing foundational knowledge about mental health & mental health conditions and information about what people can do if their mental health is a cause for concern." Source


You can read more about this theme here

 

Another 2022 Mental Health Awareness Week theme is 'Loneliness', popular in the UK.


"Loneliness is affecting more and more of us and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health, and we need to find better ways of tackling widespread feelings of loneliness - and we can all play a part in this.

Reducing loneliness is a major step towards creating a mentally healthy society. So the focus this year is raising awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental wellbeing and the practical steps we can take to address it." Source


You can read more about this theme here

 

'Hacking' your mental health


There are a few easy-step things you can do to give your mental health a quick boost:


Track gratitude and achievement in a journal

Get out a pen and paper and write down 3 things you are grateful for and 3 things you were able to accomplish every day. Seeing your accomplishments on paper can help remind you of how great you are doing.


 

Take time to laugh

Laughter helps reduce anxiety and is linked to elevated moods. Perhaps try some laughing yoga. It’s fun, we promise.




 

Go off the grid and take time for yourself

Disconnect from social media, emails, alerts, and interruptions. Have some good ole me time.










 

Dance while you do your housework

Turn those mundane chores into an opportunity to celebrate and let loose.








 

Spend some time with a furry friend

If you aren’t allergic, of course. If you don’t have a pet, spend some time with a friend who does. Animals are amazing stress relief.










 

Go on a nature walk

Studies show that being surrounded by nature can help reduce depression and increase wellness.










 

Mental Health & Wellbeing Calendar


This marks specific events and days for acknowledgement in Australia.

Dates to note this month...

  • 12th May - International Nurses Day

  • 17th-23rd May - National Volunteer Week

  • 24th May - World Schizophrenia Awareness Day

  • 26th May - National Sorry Day

  • 27th May-3rd June - Reconciliation Week


You can view the full list here.

 

Ways to raise awareness about mental health


You might be wondering whether one person’s efforts can really make a difference, and the answer is “Yes, absolutely!” Every conversation you have about the importance of recognising and treating mental illness creates a ripple effect that reaches people in your circle and far beyond it. There are many ways that you can raise awareness for mental health. Read on for some suggestions:

 

Join or sign up to participate in a challenge and/or donate to mental health charities

Especially those where all/the majority of donations go directly to the programs and services. Here are some links to give you some inspiration:

 

Attend a virtual discussion about mental health

Some online forums might be a good place to start:

 




Volunteer with a local peer or mentoring organisation









 

Get certified in mental health first aid

These are courses designed to educate community members on how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

The training is focused on developing skills to provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis.

There are a lot of different organisations offering these courses if you do a quick online search!

 

Share your mental health story

Open up about your experiences if you have them.

Sharing your story about your own struggles with mental illness could be the encouragement that someone else needs to open up about theirs.

It can be reassuring to hear that someone else has experienced similar struggles and is now able to tell their story.

 

Take a mental health screen

Use an online screening to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Part of removing the stigma of mental health awareness is accepting that everyone can struggle with their mental health, and it is not shameful to seek help or support around it.

Some Australian websites that offer this include:

 

Talk to people about how they are really doing

Talk with everyone you know, asking friends, family and colleagues how they're doing - and really listen to their answers.


There are some amazing resources on how to start the conversation on ruok.org.au

 

Encourage kind language

Explore 'person-centred language.' Any language that reinforces the stigma surrounding mental illness is harmful and might keep someone from getting help. So be sure to call it out when anyone is using derogatory words about mental illness and try educating them on the consequences of their language.

 

Educate yourself about mental illnesses...

...so that you can pass on your knowledge to those in your circle.

It's pretty common for people to misunderstand mental illness, so educating yourself on common misconceptions prepares you to have those conversations.


This includes talking with children about mental health in age-appropriate terms. Children aren't immune to mental illness and can experience conditions like depression and anxiety at an early age.

  • Stories of Healing (web) An American organisation that shares stories of real people who have recovered from mental health and substance use challenges.

  • You Can't Ask That (video series) An series on ABC that asks the most outrageous and uncomfortable questions to uncover the truth behind what it's like for marginalised and misunderstood Australians.

 

Spread awareness on social media or through word-of-mouth conversations


There's a lot of important and quality content out there that can reach thousands of people if you share it. We now have the platforms to allow us to reach more people, so don't be afraid to use them to spread awareness about such important issues.




 

Educate yourself on the connection between physical and mental health

Eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise and sleep all play a part in a person’s mental and emotional state. Mental health doesn't exist in isolation from your physical health, so looking after both simultaneously can be the most effective way to maintain your all-around wellbeing.






 

While we love to recognize and celebrate Mental Health Awareness on certain months and days, remember that mental health is something that affects people on a daily basis.

It is meant to be appreciated and celebrated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


 

Additional References:


Author:

Grace Manzella



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