May is Mental Health Month, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more aware of my mental health. Between being stuck inside, constantly refreshing the horror machine known as Twitter for fresh waves of bad news and the uncertainty of the future, the world’s population seems ready to crack under the stress.
Those of us who already struggle with mental illness are now joined by people newly experiencing financial instability and trauma. Efforts to destigmatize mental illness have been slowly inching forward, but still mainly focus on depression and anxiety. In these difficult times, awareness is more important than ever, but so is action.
As someone who grew up with a veritable cornucopia of mental illnesses, I hated self-care talk. How was yoga supposed to slow the cycling assembly machine humming through my brain? How would eating vegan or running or journaling help if I could barely peel myself off my bedroom floor and control my breathing for long enough to sleep? I was lucky enough to have the vocabulary and space to express what I was feeling, but giving something a name doesn’t immediately defang it. What did help, after much handwringing and shame, was medication.
Of course, mental health is a huge topic. I certainly can’t speak to what’s best for everyone. All I know is that pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t wink it from existence. Refusing to listen or offer support doesn’t magically make someone better. And getting better shouldn’t be the goal. Most mental illnesses are never fully “cured.” They are managed. When we approach mental illness awareness and treatment, it should be nuanced and deliberate. No one is to blame for their illness, and we all deserve to experience life and religion in our own way, as best we can.
The true purpose of Mental Health Month, at least to me, is to exercise compassion and kindness toward those of us who are experiencing illness. And for those of us who are, it gives us a chance to speak about our experiences and vocalize what we need from the broader community.
Even though times seem bleak, we are able to help each other. Reach out to our friends and neighbors. Freely discuss mental health with our children and communities. Take steps to improve the way we view people with mental illnesses and not rely on tired stereotypes to inform how we treat them. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great place to start. We can change the cultural narrative around mental health by educating ourselves, and now is the best time to start.