Every May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I want to talk about how you can have a great month and about some of the actions and mindsets that are important, in order to make this month good for your mental health and the mental health of those around you.
First, let’s start off with the idea of awareness. What is mental health awareness? How can we think about that really broadly in the first few days of May? What does mental health mean to you? What are some of the things that you’re doing to help your health or not?
The most important thing in the first few days of mental health awareness month is to think about your mental health and the aspects of it that you want to improve. You don’t have to have a formal mental health diagnosis to know that you need a little help with your sleep hygiene or that your mood gets a little too low, or you get anxious in social situations. These are all things that you might want to set as goals to work on. I also urge you to think of awareness when it comes to the people in your life who are struggling a little bit with some aspect of their mental health. Your support could be meaningful.
Acknowledge Stigma and Bias
The second step, is to acknowledge stigma and bias. We all carry stigma and bias. Stigma is the idea that people have some indication that others are diseased, challenged or inferior because of their mental health diagnosis. We have a set of attitudes towards them. For example, you might be concerned if you learned a teacher at school had bipolar disorder or someone who was working with you had a psychotic disorder or a past history of addiction. You might make a lot of assumptions about them. That’s stigma and bias. It’s really important to think about that because we all carry those biases. Mental health disorders can be very scary because they are somewhat unknown and we’re all vulnerable to them. We all have a human brain so that makes us susceptible to mental illness.
The next step for Mental Health Awareness Month is support. A lot of us aren’t getting some of the support we need, whether that’s in the structure of our lives, needing some specific help, working through a problem with our families or in our work life. Support is key in considering if you are doing a good job supporting your mental health.
Secondly, think about the types of support that you can give. This doesn’t always have to be sitting down and having a long talk with somebody about their mental health. Great ways to support the mental health of people you care about is to take them out for an activity, make plans to go on a bike ride, a walk or to do something within your community together. That’s a great way to support mental health and mental fitness.
Next up is action, the most important part. I hope this May you think about mental health action. Awareness is important for all of us to fight stigma, to have self-awareness and to know what’s going on with our mental health and the mental health of people around us. But we have to take action about this. We can’t simply know that we’re struggling. We’ve got to do something about it. We can’t simply know that someone in our lives is having a hard time with maybe a substance use disorder, we need to do something about it. That’s where mental health action comes in.
Get active on social. Tag #mentalhealthaction when you do something to take care of your mental health. People promote all kinds of good information about mental health on social media. Make sure you’re one of those people who’s helping promote good, solid evidence-based information about mental health. It’s a great opportunity for you to think about how to connect with your community with local activities that are celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month or groups that might be active in a specific area of mental health that is important to you. It’s always important to look for great community events like walks, meetings or town halls, where the subject is mental health. A lot of those types of activities are increasingly happening in communities during May. If they’re not happening in yours, you could decide to host one. It can be as simple as talking about important aspects of mental health right now, whether it’s nutrition, sleep, mourning or grief, there’s a lot going on for all of us and our mental health.
This May I hope you focus on your mental health. May is a time for us all to think about rejuvenation, maybe spring cleaning when it comes to taking an accounting and doing something about our mental health. Think about some of these steps that I’ve listed as a way to frame things up. I hope you have a great Mental Health Awareness Month. Feel free to share in the comments below things that you’re doing to take care of your mental health this month or activities that really help you.
Drew Ramsey, MD is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. His work focuses on clinical excellence, nutritional interventions and creative media. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and in active telemedicine clinical practice based in New York City.
His work has been featured by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Lancet Psychiatry, The Today Show, BBC, and NPR and he has given three TEDx talks. He is the co-author of the Antidepressant Food Scale and his e-courses on Nutritional Psychiatry education for the public and clinicians. His books Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety (Harperwave 2021), Eat Complete, 50 Shades of Kale, and The Happiness Diet explore the connections between mental health and nutrition. He is on the Advisory Board at Men’s Health, the Editorial Board at Medscape Psychiatry, and is a member of the Well+Good Wellness Council.