Cure stigma with green ribbons: Support mental health awareness month

Mental health is a topic that’s seldom talked about, although many professionals can agree that it is a serious one. It’s typically seen as attention-seeking, a nonexistent problem or not important enough to be addressed, however, this is not the case. It is very important to create conversations about mental health, especially during May’s mental health awareness month. Mental health is important for a person’s overall health and should be a priority, however many underestimate its significance.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults experience mental illness in the United States every year and 17% of teens experience a form of mental disorder. The NAMI also states that 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses start by age 14 and 75% of these lifetime mental illnesses appear by age 24. The global pandemic has only increased these numbers around the country.

“The pandemic definitely made things worse across the board and I’ve definitely seen the fallout from that. Starting with the drawbacks of it you have the elements of the isolation, the quarantine, that in and of itself,” says Dr. Raul Rodriguez, founder of Delray Center for Healing. “It’s also natural for couples and families who were normally either at school or at work and have to spend the whole day and night together now and get on each other’s nerves.”

The pandemic has negatively impacted the public’s mental health. For some, they now suffer from anxiety, isolation, stress and depression from the uncertainty of the virus and the enforced social distance. For others with pre-existing conditions, the pandemic has only worsened symptoms and disorders. However, there are still people who prefer not to discuss mental health and mental illness.

Image courtesy of National Alliance on Mental Illness website

Dr. Rodiguez suggests that this is because, “you have other people who have not asked for help because they’re not at that point of acceptance yet, or they can’t afford it, or they don’t know what to do, or how to act.”

Many don’t know how to act because they hardly know about mental health, mental illness or what can be done to protect oneself from anxieties and disorders. 

“I think that there’s never enough general awareness of what mental health is. It’s just a basic concept of the borders of the brain, just like the arteries of the heart, and the kidneys and the lungs exist as well,” Dr. Rodriguez added.

Even though the first part of mental health awareness is knowing about the topic, there is still a stigma to it. Taking care of one’s mental health and mental illness, in general, is often judged by those who don’t understand it or have not suffered from mental illness or disorders. This causes the topic of mental health to have a stigma over it, prevents others from talking about it and prevents those who are suffering from getting professional help. 

When asked, Dr. Rodiguiz stated that fear is one of the main sources of mental health stigma. “They fear that their partner is going to treat them differently, they fear that they will lose their ability, function and their adult roles as a professional, or mother, or father.”

He also stated how fear and a lack of understanding can often be based on a person’s culture or society. If a person’s country doesn’t make mental health a priority, then there’s a high chance of that person being undiagnosed and not receiving any help when they are struggling. It’s a long process, but sometimes there are simple steps that each individual can take on their own to improve their mental health. 

Image courtesy of National Council for Mental Wellbeing website

Dr. Rodiguez informed that cutting out drugs and alcohol, getting more sleep, exercising and cutting down on caffeine are some things that can help. He stated that doing something as small as sleeping a few more hours can improve a person’s anxiety or help boost one’s mood. 

“By itself may not be the treatment for extreme conditions, but it will certainly help somebody get better sooner. I would also say something as simple as less caffeine,” Dr. Rodiguez informs.  “Caffeine is often overused by people who are trying to do more and trying to accomplish more for themselves and their families. But caffeine is often overlooked. It’s not stigmatized because it’s normal. It can increase stress on the body by being much more on edge and it can hurt sleep.”

Sometimes completing these simple tasks is enough to ensure a healthier mental state, but sometimes it’s necessary to pursue professional help. Admitting to needing outside help is not always easy because of emotional, financial or other challenges, but is highly recommended. A person whose mental health is suffering is also physically suffering. Dr. Rodriugez confirms that certain studies show the effect that depression has on a person’s brain. The brain of someone with depression for long periods shrinks over time and shows just how much your physical body is affected by one’s mental health. 

Dr. Roduieguez suggests that “ if there is a problem it’s better to address it sooner than later. Because it’s not good for you to be in a state where you’re very depressed and really anxious. It’s not good for you emotionally, it’s not good for you psychologically, it’s not good for you to be in that state.”

Image courtesy of National Alliance on Mental Illness website

On top of seeking help, the best way to improve one’s mental health and break the stigma is to educate others about it. Helping others around you understand mental health, the difficulties of dealing with mental illness and how to help others is a great start. Teaching adults and children alike helps reduce the judgments around taking care of mental health. 

When asked, Dr. Rodiuez stated that “going as far as incorporating into education, into schools, and having children learn,” can help people take care of themselves earlier. “Children learn about parts of the body like the heart and different organs in a science class, having them start to learn about the concept of mental health is also very important.”

Mental health isn’t ignorable, it’s just as important as getting a bit of exercise every day. Mental illness isn’t dismissable, it affects the victim and everyone around them. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and suicidal thoughts aren’t calls for attention, they are a cry for help. Taking care of one’s mental health should be a part of daily life just like brushing your teeth in the morning.

Mental health awareness doesn’t end in May either. It should become a daily habit and be continually learned. Sometimes, the best way to help someone who’s suffering is to raise awareness and show support. So break the stigma by putting your judgments aside, becoming more informed and taking care of your mental health. 

About the Author

- Lauren is a junior at Nova Southeastern University who is studying Communications, Creative Writing, and Strategic Communications. In her free time, she loves to go to the beach and writing what's on her mind.

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