Mental health awareness, reducing stigma, and the importance of Kindred Spirits

Posted May 15, 2017, at 2:14 p.m.
Last modified May 15, 2017, at 4:18 p.m.

May is National Mental Health Month. Every year since 1949, Mental Health America (MHA) and its affiliates have led media campaigns and local events to share information, teach skills to improve mental health, and reduce social stigma.

For 2017, MHA has chosen the theme of “Risky Business.” According to their site:

“Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. But people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently—and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem.

We believe it’s important to educate people about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. These include risk factors, such as risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns. We hope… to raise awareness of the risks that these types of behaviors present—especially to young people—and help people who may be struggling to detect early warning signs and seek help early…”

High-risk behaviors are unhealthy ways of coping with stress levels or may be signs of mental illness. These behaviors can disrupt someone’s mental health. Unfortunately, they are most often distractions that ultimately fail to help us overcome internal conflicts or improve our emotional wellbeing over the long run. Learning to cope by gaining a greater awareness of the causes of depression, anxiety, and other disorders are the practical ways people can improve their health and quality of life.

MHA offers free online screening tools in the following areas:

* Depression

* Anxiety

* Bi-Polar Disorder

* Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

* Alcohol/Substance Use Disorder

* Eating Disorders

* Behavioral Disorders for children

Maine Behavioral Healthcare (MBH) supports Mental Health Awareness Month and is working locally to increase access to quality treatment and reduce social stigma associated with mental illness. Of particular importance in this year’s campaign is the emphasis on recovery from prescription drug misuse and behavioral addictions like compulsive spending and excessive exercise.

Although extreme exercise practices can be dangerous and a red flag during a person’s recovery, sensible exercise regimens, with or without medical supervision, can improve both physical and mental health. The foundational needs and benefits of improving our nutrition and self care are also easily overlooked. Too often we approach change as an intellectual exercise instead of a lifestyle change. There’s a recovery adage that reminds us, “You cannot think your way into a new way of living. You have to live your way into a new way of thinking.”

The benefit of developing and utilizing a network of natural supports –family, friends and kindred spirits who struggle with similar conditions –cannot be overstated. In addition to having encouragement for our efforts, we find that being accountable to others for our continued progress is invaluable. People often try to overcome mental illness alone because of shame and social stigma. What we can do together is infinitely greater.

Professional support can help us achieve clarity and develop plans to achieve our goals:  MBH has many resources to help you explore ways to improve individual mental health and overall family functioning. Our resources include:

* Children and adolescent mental health services

* Adult mental health services

* Crisis and Trauma Services

* Autism and Developmental Disorder Services

* Substance Use and Addiction Services

* Residential and Supported Housing

* Behavioral Health Homes and Case Management

* Care at Your Providers Office

* Find out more at Maine Behavioral Healthcare