Mental Health Awareness Month is recognized each May to increase awareness of mental health and well-being, and to educate people in order to decrease the stigma that is oftentimes associated with seeking help for mental health issues.
We spoke with two Spira Care mental health professionals about the importance of mental health, ways to seek help and how to help overcome the stigmas of mental health.
Why Mental Health Month Matters
“Mental Health Awareness Month is a time to openly talk about mental health and to make it known that you are a resource or sounding board,” says Sara Nelson-Johns, LSCSW, MSW, a therapist at Spira Care Shawnee.
“Talk about it, let others know you are aware of it. Just a small statement that you understand that life can be really hard, or that you recently read an article about mental health issues is a cue to others around you that they can also talk about it,” she said. “Bringing light to a person experiencing dark thoughts is something everyone is capable of doing.”
This month also provides a time for you to focus on your own mental well-being.
“Make a point of taking care of yourself and addressing the issues that are getting in your way of greater happiness,” said Dr. Debra McQueeney, Ph.D., a psychologist at Spira Care Olathe. “Love those in your circle that are struggling.”
Fighting the Stigma
According to the CDC, 25 percent of all U.S. adults currently have a mental illness, and nearly 50 percent of all U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. So, why is there such a stigma around seeking mental healthcare?
“The message of shame about mental health issues is very powerful. If a family has had generations of anxiety or depression without any effective treatment, it’s easy to understand why the next generation believes they just need to ignore those thoughts and feelings and work harder,” Nelson-Johns said. “[But] there are the steps [we] can take to reduce or eliminate mental health issues if we start to openly discuss this topic.”
Dr. McQueeney, who has worked in the healthcare field for 30 years, attributes mental health stigma to three separate causes: cost, access to care and self-stigma.
“We too often think the dollars spent on mental health can wait,” she said. “We put ourselves last. An investment in mental well-being is actually never wasted.”
Dr. McQueeney also explained the reluctance to seek mental health treatment can sometimes be attributed to self-stigma.
“Mental health is about all of us. We can all use a helping hand managing stress, doing better in relationships, feeling happier or healthier. We are all in this together, so shame over seeking help is an emotion best ignored.”
Mental and behavioral health are often covered on health insurance plans. Check your coverage to see what services are available to you. Spira Care members can receive behavioral health consulting and mental health support for the entire range of behavioral health conditions, as well as the behavioral components of chronic disease.
“We are able to support a wide range of mental health issues, but more importantly, we are able to support the whole person,” Nelson-Johns said. “Often, mental health issues affect physical health, work, home, family, friendships, hobbies and activities. Small changes can accumulate over time to create an entirely new way of living – one that can be happier, healthier and more meaningful.”
When it comes to entering the rapidly growing health field, our Spira Care mental health practitioners agree that theirs is a rewarding and fulfilling career.
Dr. McQueeney suggests that those considering a career in the mental health space focus on training for integrated, primary-care settings.
“Integrated behavioral health is where our industry is headed, and it is a great thing,” McQueeney said. “If one wants to help people, the opportunity to be most effective is right in the primary care exam room. Timing is everything, and prevention lives there.”
Nelson-Johns urges that those looking to pursue a mental health-related career path immerse themselves in the practice and dig deep within themselves to help others.
“The most effective mental health professionals are the ones that can reach a hand out to those that still need to find the path to recovery and let them know that life can be different,” she said. “Expose yourself to as much information as possible about the different career tracks by taking a class, reading a book, or going to a support group for people proactively dealing with mental health issues.”
If you are struggling, speak to a trained crisis worker at 1-800-273-TALK.