Mental Health Awareness Month is recognized annually in May. Where I live, May is lovely, green, and lush. In Iowa, we’re plotting, planning, and planting our gardens and pots. We still enjoy mowing the yard. The patios and parks are open and inviting with the longer days and warmer temperatures. The scents of lilac and peony drift through our open windows.
The idea that March is just over there is what gets me through February. I argue that in the Northern Hemisphere, February is the the ideal month for mental health awareness. Right now, we are deeply aware of our own mental health and likely of those around us and a full-scale PR campaign on mental health might be the encouragement to make some changes. Winter is still on and often in full force. Honestly, March is the only thing to look forward to in February.
I don’t need to bring the litany of reasons why these past twelve months have been extraordinary. Those of us who have never had serious mental health issues are dealing with depression and anxiety right now due to significant stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition or disorder at some point in their lifetime. One in five Americans will have a mental illness in a given year. One in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness such as major depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia.
Dear friends, these are pre-pandemic statistics.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a highly-reputable organization that studies health and well-being, found that four of ten people have reported having anxiety or depression during this past year. Recognizing the stigma Americans attach to all things mental health, it is very likely that this isn’t the full picture.
Here’s the thing. People are slogging along in their lives unaware that it’s not them, it’s not a character flaw, it’s a chemical inbalance in their brain. Thinking back to the CDC statistics, this is not an uncommon health condition if at least half of us will have some mental illness in our lifetime.
One of the many positive things (yes, there are some!) developed out of necessity this past year is telehealth and increased access to mental health professionals. Access to mental health care is a serious issue that prevents many from getting treatment. During this time, many insurance companies have allowed payment for telehealth. This benefit definitely needs to continue post-pandemic to be made available for everyone, insured, uninsured, and under-insured. Hospital emergency rooms are not the place to treat mental health issues when prevention can be made available.
It’s time for us to get past this stigma we place on mental health and allow people to seek help without being discriminated against. (Especially if we are discriminating against ourselves.) If the statistics are accurate, then perhaps you or many people you love are dealing with some mental health issue that could be made better by taking away the shame, guilt, and isolation. In that spirit, I take three medications daily to help my brain function and make sure that serotonin and dopamine stay in my brain longer than it otherwise would. I’m the one in 25 with a serious mental health disorder, and I’m certain that I am not the only one you know.
If you are noticing that you are not doing well, please don’t struggle in silence. Don’t blame yourself for these feelings. Start with your primary care doctor if calling a mental health professional is too much. Sure, March might make it better. Becoming employed again and not having to rely on food banks would definitely help. Your grief from your mother dying of Covid may ease with time. It is very possible that medication could smooth the rough and painful edges of these situations. You may also learn that your brain needs help regulating the right chemicals to help you take your life back. Nature is showing us how to emerge from a dark time with new life, energy, and growth. March seems to allow space to have hope and to actually exhale. Please make the call.