By Veronica Martinez, Stop Stigma Speakers Bureau Member
The pandemic made countless changes to how we approach the world around us – including how we prioritize and spend our time, who we spend that time with, how our actions impact our larger community and importantly: how we can best support the mental health of ourselves and others.
As we enter Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 3-9), I want to acknowledge how important this increased awareness and education about mental health is for helping our communities to heal and grow.
Growing up, mental health and mental illness were not a part of my education – and it wasn’t until I was 24 that I finally received treatment for my mental illness, despite the fact that I had shared many of my symptoms and concerns with family and doctors during my teens and early 20s. Without education around my symptoms and my mental illnesses, I wasn’t equipped to advocate for my own health and wellbeing.
Now that I have a comprehensive understanding of my mental illness and mental health, I can advocate for myself and my children – and I can teach them how to advocate for themselves by giving them the information and tools that I didn’t have growing up.
Advocating for yourself is crucial, because it can be easy for others to dismiss your symptoms as a result of the stigma and misconceptions that surround mental illness. They may think that you are just having a bad day, or perhaps you are overreacting – but the more you understand about your mental illness and mental health, the more you can articulate what you need and why.
With that said, it’s also important to acknowledge that your own education and understanding of your mental health is an ongoing journey that will evolve as you do. When I was first diagnosed, I thought I was in this box where I would receive one form of treatment for my mental illness, and that would be the end of it. But it turns out that mental health is connected to your whole body and self, and as a result, your mental health, and the treatments that help you, will evolve as you do.
I now know that the effects of my trauma have had physical impacts on my body, that I can calm my nervous system down with deep breaths and by practicing yoga, and that my lifestyle will always have an impact on my overall mental health.
Therefore, since I am constantly growing and changing, I need to continually evaluate my mental health and the ways I can best support it. I may be fine today, but I may have a harder day tomorrow, and that’s ok. The tools I use to treat my mental illness and to take care of my mental health will constantly evolve, and I have the power and ability to speak up for myself when I need to make a change to my lifestyle, work or behavior to adapt and continue healing.
I am not alone in my mental health journey, and neither are you. I encourage everyone to develop a strong support system so that, when you need to talk to someone or when you need help, your friends and family are equipped and ready to support you. Whether that just means they listen to you as you share what you are experiencing or watch your kids while you visit your doctor or therapist, having that network of supporters in your life makes all the difference.
Above all, be an advocate for yourself and others by helping to educate our community about mental health and mental illness. It is only through education that we can fully support one another and allow our community to heal and grow.