Today is Memorial Day. A day to remember and mourn those who have died in service of the United States. Today is also the last day of Mental Health Awareness month.
Not only do most of us honor those who lost their lives while serving in the military, but also those who served and passed later on in life. Both of my grandfathers were US Veterans and the patriarchs of our families. On a normal year, I would be finding my way to Chicago to lay flags where my Grandpa Chuck is buried. But this hasn’t been a normal year for anyone.
When I think about those who have served and are serving in the military, like many people, an awful lot comes up. I think about how I could never do it. I think about what I can do for the individuals in the military whom I work with now and will work with in the future. I think about how no matter how many conversations I have with those who have served, I still can’t wrap my head around some of the things these individuals experience. I try to think of ways to be better at my job. This usually leads me into a worm hole, thinking about our poor history in America of not doing what is necessary to take care of our veterans once they return home to battle their own mental health. Which leads me to today, the last day of Mental Health Awareness month.
This is just one small (doesn’t actually feel small) example of how seriously mental health impacts our communities. The reason I describe this example as “small” is because the impact that mental health awareness (or a lack of) has had on our world is so huge there’s no way to measure it. Google “history of mental illness treatment” and you’ll see words like trephination, bloodletting and purging, isolation and asylums, insulin coma therapy, Metrazol therapy, and lobotomy. The latter of which was only discontinued less than 70 years ago.
In 2021, things are definitely better. There are well researched therapeutic modalities and real, genuine, caring helping professionals who put their hearts and their minds out there day in and day out to serve, support, and advocate for their communities. But the truth is that we are only just breaching the surface of mental health awareness. The fact that I have been working in mental health for 5 years and not once has my health insurance offered any sort of coverage for counseling or therapy (outside of a measly 6 sessions provided by a company-wide employee assistance program) is sad. Scientifically, we know that stress ALONE (don’t even get me started on trauma) can negatively impact our physical health. And we ALL experience stress to some degree. How does stress manifest in the body? Low energy, headaches, upset stomach, aches and pains, chest pain, rapid heart beat, insomnia, frequent colds and infections, clenched jaw and grinding teeth. Cardiovascular disease – high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, stroke. Sexual dysfunction (my B if this makes you uncomfortable, but sex and reproduction are essential pieces of human life). Menstrual problems. Gastrointestinal problems. The list goes on.
Not only can stress cause this laundry list of terrible stuff, but can also increase the likelihood of developing other more serious mental health issues. I bring this up only to shine any shred of tiny light on how much more work we need to do in mental health and for our mental health.
I have been tossing around the idea of posting a vlog or blog over the last month sharing my own mental health journey and experiences. But the truth is, it’s REALLY hard. Some of these experiences I have shared in bits and pieces through previous blogs. But some pieces aren’t as easy to share on such an “out loud” platform. What I can tell you is that everyone and their dog needs a therapist. Whether you are wading through serious trauma and abuse or having a hard time deciding what color to paint your driveway – we all need someone whose only job for 50 minutes straight is to help you sort through your crap and listen to you.
This stuff isn’t easy. Talking about mental health is not easy. But it is necessary. No matter your profession, you can do your part to support the people around you. Get familiar with the resources in your community so you can point friends and family in the right direction when they need help. Instead of judging someone for sharing something difficult with you, sit with it. Listen to them. Try to understand from their perspective but also understand that everyone experiences everything differently. It’s not about having all the answers or giving the best advice. Mental health awareness is about acceptance and love; kindness and listening. It’s an end to the stigma.
If you or someone you know if in need of support and is not sure what resources are available to them, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
If you’re in need of immediate support, the link below provides some of the top helpline resources in mental health.
Photo by Christine Groening, U.S. Air Force / Military.com.