MAY IS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH
by Jessica Gurley
For New Pittsburgh Courier
The biggest myth and misinformation about mental health is who has it…and who doesn’t. Here’s the truth—we all have mental health.
Mental health refers to your cognitive (mental), behavioral, and emotional stability, and whether these things are well-balanced or not.
We all have thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that fluctuate throughout the day, and when we talk about these things, we are talking about our mental health. Another example is asking someone, “How are you doing today?” This is indeed a mental health question and we should be genuinely prepared to answer it.
But too often today, “mental health” is confused with “mental illness.” Everyone does not have a mental illness. Mental illness is defined by having a condition or disorder that negatively affects your mood, thinking, or behaviors almost daily. A person with a severe diagnosis usually occurs before the age of 21; however, nobody is exempt from developing a mental illness within their lifetime. To determine if you have a mental illness, you should be assessed by a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Here are some examples of mental illness: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are a host of others.
Within my 12 years of working with individuals with mental illness, I have learned that stigmas exist mainly because of misinformation. There is a false belief that poor people, people of color, or the general public does not care about mental health, but in my experience, I have seen the opposite. I have presented to hospital staff, colleges, churches, and small business and each time, the audience appears to be tuned in, willing to participate, and relieved to have learned what may be going on with themselves or their family member.
Another myth is related to “therapy,” and who should or shouldn’t go. My response? Everyone should go. You do not need to have a pre-existing diagnosis to go to therapy! Constant indecisiveness related to life changes, anxiety or procrastination related to anything new and a need for an honest confidential dialogue with a professional are just a few examples that indicate therapy might be needed. As a matter of fact, if you are experiencing any type of mental instability, you should go to a licensed mental health professional to rule things out.
“Therapy” seems to be a word that, historically, African Americans shy away from, though as I said previously, I believe our community cares tremendously about mental health. I created a mental health T-shirt line to combat the many myths about therapy, and the shirts inspired many, who may have had cold feet, to take the leap and go to therapy for the first time. Others have returned to therapy for a second or third time, or they’ve started a conversation with their loved ones about mental health. Individuals who wear our shirts tell me that they enjoy people asking them questions such as, “What is therapy really like?” or, “Did therapy really help you?”
That’s exactly what I wanted our shirts to accomplish. A therapist’s most basic job description is to help individuals heal from, or resolve, a significant problem(s) in their life. As one of my mental health T-shirts says, “Therapy is where you go to learn to be your best self and live your best life.”
Advocating for mental health resources and therapy despite insurance is very critical right now. I’ve found that perhaps the most damaging impact of untreated mental health issues is parents separating and/or divorcing because they cannot recognize their spouse has a mental health problem that needs treatment.
I have come across many of these cases which, ultimately, traumatically impacts the children and the individuals involved. For example, the signs of depression are feeling sad most of the day, loss of interest or pleasure, feeling slowed down, irritability/anger, sleep disturbance, significant weight gain or loss, loss of energy, diminished ability to concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of suicide and death. Let’s say a spouse is unaware of these signs. That spouse could become resentful, mean, or project that these symptoms are purposely being directed towards them.
This can easily break up a family.
Research shows that keeping the family unit together, whether married or not, reduces poverty, financial stressors, and mental health issues, while also increasing the likelihood that these individuals will be educated, emotionally intelligent, healthier, and more likely to be able to have successful relationships in life. “Therapy” (yep, there goes that word again) can help reduce or sometimes resolve mental health and family issues. It can also provide long-term coping skills and strategies to help avoid breakdown of relationships and continuations of generational curses.
Did you know that 1 in 5 individuals live with a mental health condition in the United States? If we want to heal, uplift, and change the trajectory of individuals, families, and communities, we must significantly invest more time, money, and education into mental health and therapy. Even more forward thinking, if any elected officials or community leaders want to show that they are serious about mental health, they must advocate for mental health education courses to be required in every grade school or college campus, because everyone will encounter someone with a mental health condition in their lifetime, whether they realize it or not.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are a few ways to receive immediate help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); The Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects callers to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
Text “HELLO” to 741741
The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.
FEATURED IMAGE: Jessica Gurley is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Social Work Consulting and Counseling, LLC. She is also the owner of Mental Health Ts, which focuses on creative T-shirt designs to start the conversation about mental health. A Pittsburgh native and Oliver High School graduate, Gurley earned her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008, and later earned her Master of Social Work degree, also from Pitt. Gurley’s mission is to always “H.E.L.P.— Heal, Enlighten, Liberate, and Plan” with each person she serves.
(Photo by Courier photographer Aquene Watkins-Wise)