May has been recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States since 1949 when Mental Health America began efforts to raise awareness for mental health conditions by releasing information to the media as well as hosting local events and screenings. In 2014, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation for National Mental Health Awareness Month that commits to understanding and treating the individuals suffering from a mental illness. The proclamation also aimed to make mental health care more accessible to those in need and end the stigma that surrounds mental health.
Mental illnesses are classified as a disorder that alters a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior. There are over 200 types of classified mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. They can be temporary or long-lasting.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.
- 1 in 5 children currently are experiencing or have experienced a seriously debilitating mental illness during their life.
- 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness – bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression – and any of the mental illnesses can impact someone’s ability to function or relate to others.
- A number of things can contribute to risk for mental illness, but there is no singular cause. Certain life experiences like trauma, abuse, or ongoing chronic illnesses can lead to mental illness. Other factors include genetics, chemical imbalances in the brain, drug or alcohol use, having few friends, or general feelings of loneliness or isolation.
With the above statistics – chances are you or someone you know is dealing with a mental illness. W.A.G.S. 4 Kids actively works to task-train service dogs for partnership with children living with mental health conditions and oftentimes sees children dealing with a mental health conditions as a secondary diagnosis. Body positions such as “love” and “cuddle” provide on-demand deep pressure therapy, similar to a weighted blanket (but BETTER!). The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that 40% of young people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have clinically elevated levels of anxiety or at least one anxiety disorder, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Currently in May 2020, the world is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. For those dealing with mental health challenges, even a seemingly “normal” day can be taxing on their mental health. When a viral outbreak is happening and changing life as we know it, the stress, fear, and anxiety can be completely overwhelming. This month, W.A.G.S. 4 Kids stands against the stigma and with our community of children and parents, friends, family members, and other individuals with mental illnesses in giving you some tips to help manage mental health during these uncertain times.
Take care of your body
Physical wellness is just as important as mental wellness. Especially during times when stress, anxiety, and depression levels are likely to rise; keeping your body up and running can have a positive impact on your mental health as well. With warmer spring and summer weather on the way, now is a great time to get active outdoors – go for a walk, hike, enjoy a bike ride, or join a virtual 5K like our annual Wonder Run.
Try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to fuel your body. Drink water to stay hydrated, too. You should also continue to get an adequate amount of sleep. These things sounds easy enough, which also make them the easiest to ignore. Just because your routine may be different doesn’t mean you can function on less sleep.
This is a good time to explore some relaxing practices like deep breathing, meditation, or stretching if you don’t already include these in your daily routine. Activities like these can help calm your mind while benefiting your body.
Keep up with your routines
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted routines across the board. For adults and children alike, keeping up with your routine as much as possible is beneficial. You can implement a sense of normalcy by waking up at the time you normally would and creating and adhering to a daily schedule. If you previously started your morning with a cup of coffee or tea, do the same now before starting your remote work or tackling your chore list for the day. For children, create a schedule of when they’ll be expected to complete school activities, have a lunch break, enjoy some relaxation time, and complete chores.
Too much time on your hands can allow your mind to go into overdrive with negative thoughts about the current state of things or just in general. Maintaining a routine can help each day feel purposeful and keep your mind active and focused.
Take a break
Take breaks away from reading or watching the news or checking social media. Limiting your exposure to the news gives your mind a break from information overload. It’s also important to remember to take breaks to do something you enjoy that can help you unwind. Working or doing school work from home can make it seem difficult or wrong to step away from the computer screen, but short breaks are beneficial to mental health. Try to do some other activities you enjoy like reading a book, coloring, walking in nature, or playing with a pet, among other things.
Taking a break and practicing self-care is not selfish, especially when it can positively impact your mental health.
Check in with others
Having few friends and feelings of loneliness and isolation are common triggers for mental illness. In a time when we are encouraged to stay at home and practice social distancing for the health and safety of ourselves and others, those feelings can become unbearable and affect our mental health even more.
Communicating – even virtually through the phone or video conferencing – can help everyone feel less alone in times where we are encouraged to limit contact with others. Thankfully, in today’s world, there are many different ways to reach out to someone without physically seeing them. You can also bring back some other forms of communication like letters and cards, think pen-pal style! Consider catching up with an old friend or relative you haven’t chatted with in a while.
With 1 in 5 people struggling with a mental illness at some point, it is important to understand you are not alone – even if it feels that way at times. Even with self-care, communication, friends, and advice, individuals struggling with a mental illness may still need additional professional support.
Seeking professional help is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a step of courage to want to improve your mental health and to know when to ask for additional help. Part of Mental Health Month is not only to raise awareness, but to end the stigma that surrounds individuals with mental health disorders and increase access to treatment.
Social distancing may be lonely, but you are not alone. If at any time you want or need to talk to someone – text HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling. Crisis doesn’t just mean thinking about ending your own life. It’s any painful emotion and anytime you need support.
This May and beyond, let’s work together to raise awareness for our friends, coworkers, relatives, and acquaintances dealing with mental health conditions. We can encourage them to seek mental health care, which has been made more accessible. Take a personal pledge to foster a safe space for someone to come and speak with you about mental health disorders and offer your support. We can all work to make small, positive changes that lead to an even bigger positive impact in our lives and the lives of others when it comes to mental health. We’re in this together.