As the Marketing Director for Sanford Behavioral Health, I am responsible for social media outreach. Likewise, I am responsible for answering questions or responding to engagement on our various social media profiles. It shocks me when I post something about a new initiative we are launching, and along with the likes and shares I find a comment that sits like a toadstool among spring flowers. Recently, we launched the first standalone residential eating disorder treatment center in Michigan. Naturally, we wanted people to know about this historic event. While most of the comments on our announcements were positive, there were a few that were so mean spirited I had to talk myself out of replying in kind. Scam? You’re a scam!
Mental Health Awareness Month
My run-in with the internet trolls was timely, as it is Mental Health Awareness Month. And the only thing those of us in the mental health field can do when met with ignorance is to rise above it and try to educate. Sometimes I forget that there is still misunderstanding, and stigma attached to mental health conditions.
It’s especially hard to take, as two out of ten individuals will develop a drug or alcohol dependence and/or a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime. Four out of ten U.S. teenagers report feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness. What’s more, these chronic mental disorders affect everyone, either directly or indirectly, through interaction with family, community, and the workplace. The opioid epidemic, the pandemic, and the wide reach of a mental health crisis make it clear, there is a need for proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. There is also a need for mental health awareness and education.
Mental Health Awareness – 10 Ways to Do Your Part
1. Awareness Starts With YOU
Start by taking a moment to recognize how you are feeling, and how important your own mental wellbeing is. Vow to be a mental health advocate to yourself! The World Health Organization says, “Mental health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Mental wellness is key to navigating the slings and arrows of living in 2022!
2. Talk, Talk, and More Talk
Talk with everyone you know about how they are doing. Listen to their answers and provide resources or encourage them to seek professional help if they show signs of depression or stress. Open up and share your story if you are struggling or have struggled with a mental illness. Hearing that another person is going through a similar experience can relieve fear and serve as a catalyst for seeking help,
“Talk, talk, talk about it! There is still such a stigma associated with mental health disorders. The struggle with shame and vulnerability can be a hinderance to getting help, especially with men. We have a saying at Sanford – you can’t pour from an empty cup. And as caregivers, women tend to prioritize others before themselves, which prevents them from getting help. Shining a light on the subject can motivate people to seek the care they need and stop the self-medication.” Katie Vokes, Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Sanford Behavioral Health
3. Watch Your Language – Words Have Power!
Encourage person-first language. Likewise, when you hear someone using disparaging terms to refer to a mental illness (or read it on social media) politely point out that words have power. Any language that reinforces stigma may keep someone from getting the help they need.
“An eating disorder is not someone’s identity; it does not define them. People don’t walk around and say, ‘I am diabetes. I am heart disease.’ If we put emphasis on the eating disorder diagnosis, we are taking a person who already struggles with acknowledging the facets of their identity (which are multi-dimensional and wonderful) and making them small and confined to their eating disorder.” Dr. Anna Flores, DCN, Program Director Eating Disorders, Sanford Behavioral Health
4. Educate – Wear the Green Ribbon
Educate yourself/your organization about mental health conditions and share your knowledge. There is misunderstanding about mental illness, but excellent resources are available. Make mental health awareness a topic of discussion in your book club, walking group, community organization, school PTA, or church. Wear the green ribbon and prepare your answer to the question, “What is mental health awareness month about?”
5. Build Community/Personal Partnerships and Volunteer
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month is “Together 4 Mental Health”. At Sanford we recognize the benefit of partnerships with likeminded businesses such as The Alano Club of Kent County, I Understand Love Heals, and KIPU Health. The pandemic introduced us all to social isolation and its ill effects. It is important to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Acknowledging loneliness, reaching out and connecting with others, getting out of doors, and developing enthusiastic interests are all ways of coping with isolation. Voluteer or join a group and build a support system.
6. Use Social Media for GOOD
No matter how good your intentions, social media can be a slippery slope. Table your anger at a comment that undermines your righteous quest, rise above it, and state your case with integrity. Social media is an excellent way to reach a wide-ranging audience you would not otherwise be able to reach.
7. Sleep, Eat, Commune
In the Mental State of the World Report 2020, they single out three lifestyle factors that impact wellbeing. Those factors are sleep, social interaction, and exercise. Tell it to the world! Remembering to prioritize sleep, our best relationships, and our physical health will go a long way to improve our mental health – now and long into the future.
Mental Health Awareness Month – #together4mentalhealth
Mental Health Awareness month is the time to talk about mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and suicide. Whether as part of an organization or on your own, efforts to shine a light on the subject can be effective. Every conversation you have, every social media post, every time you politely defend recognizing and treating mental illness, it creates a ripple effect that extends far beyond your immediate circle.
“Recognize first that we have survived a pandemic. Grief, pain, and loss are happening now. Educating about mental health conditions and providing access to resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are key.” Lori Kehoe, Clinical Director Eating Disorder Services, Sanford Behavioral Health