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While there are plenty of international opportunities throughout the year to raise awareness and acknowledge the role of mental health in our lives, Mental Health Awareness Month is only celebrated in the US throughout May.
This is an excellent opportunity to look at the role of mental health from the perspective of our local communities and workplaces to understand better where it’s at and where we could be doing more.
A Brief History of Mental Health Awareness Month
Mental Health Awareness Month was first celebrated in 1949, commemorated by the Mental Health America organization, founded by Clifford Whittingham Beers.
Beers was one of five children who experienced mental illness and psychological distress. All of them also went on to spend time at mental institutions. His own hospital admittance experience helped him discover the mental health field had a notorious reputation for malpractice, maltreatment, and immense bias.
Beers wanted to find ways to ensure mental health patients not only receive the right care but do not feel alone in their fight against mental diseases.
During Mental Health Awareness month, events are covered by media and well-known figures like politicians and actors to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and elevate conversations that help shed awareness and understanding.
Four Ways Culture Impacts Mental Health Awareness
Understanding the role of cultural influences in mental health can help us, as professionals, better connect with and get to the heart of the support our clients most need. It’s also a significant part of raising awareness – with our clients, their families, and our wider communities.
Here are four ways culture may impact mental health:
- Cultural Stigma: Stigmatization around mental health has existed for decades. Stigma, including embarrassment and isolation from community groups, can make it harder for those struggling to talk openly and ask for help.
- Understanding Symptoms: In cultures where mental health is simply not discussed openly or at all, it can be challenging for those struggling with their mental health to get knowledge about their symptoms. Culture can also influence the ways people think and talk about symptoms, with some being more normalized or marginalized than others.
- Community Support: In some cultures where mental health is still heavily stigmatized, there can be a significant lack of community support for anyone who talks openly about their mental health or attempts to seek treatment. Support networks are crucial for people experiencing poor mental health, affecting how people choose to disclose and seek the support they need.
- Resources Available: People from different cultural backgrounds need to feel that their individual experiences and backgrounds are considered when seeking treatment. Unfortunately, this can be challenging to mediate, with many mental health individuals simply not aware of patients’ cultural differences and needs. This can impact how and why individuals seek support.
6 Ways to Show Up & Share Awareness in May
Outside of work, there are some great ways we can contribute and help to share knowledge, understanding, and awareness of the role mental health plays in our day-to-day lives – and how we can all develop better empathy for those around us.
Here are just a few suggestions to help get you started:
- Organize or participate in a Mental Health Walk: A mental health walk can be a simple group walk through a local park or at a local beach. It’s a great way to show people in the community that others are going through similar experiences and find connections. You could organize one through your workplaces or community organizations or check out some in-person and virtual walks hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI Walks are taking place throughout May to raise awareness of positive mental health for all. Visit www.NAMIWalks.org for more information.
- Take part in Mental Health Day of Action, May 19: Mental Health Action Day aims to inspire others to talk about their lived experience, destigmatize mental health, and drive a movement to create cultural, political, and policy changes. Everyone can drive change and support this day of action in ways that work for them. For more information, visit www.mentalhealthactionday.org.
- Host a movie night and Q&A: Movies are a great way to give others access to another’s experiences and help raise awareness for the lived experiences of mental health. You could host an evening watching (in-person or virtually) a TV show or film about mental health (and follow it up with a discussion group. Invite people to share what they learned after watching the movie. Check out this list of movies you could watch.
- Host a book club and Q&A: Alongside or instead of a movie night, you could also host a book club, focusing on texts that cover mental health in some way – ones told from a migrant perspective could generate some great discussion points. Some books you could read include:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: Traces the trajectory of Oscar from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to New Jersey.
Open City by Teju Cole: Tells the story of the migration of a young doctor, Julius, from Nigeria to Manhattan. The novel explores relationships in the context of people from different cultures that Julius encounters.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The story of two Nigerians traveling to the US and UK. The novel explores racism, romance, and patriotism in the backdrop of three countries.
Exit West by Moshim Hamid: Imagines migration as like walking through doors – you have to find the right doors to try and get through to a new place. Despite the surrealist way of talking about migration, Hamid perfectly describes the challenges and struggles of the experience.
- Wear Green: The official color and logo for the month is a green ribbon, so you could choose to spend one day a week wearing green to inspire conversations in your workplace. You could also place green ribbons around your work areas or use the logo at the end of your email signature throughout May to help highlight the role of the month and start conversations along the way.
- Encourage others to share their stories – or share your own: Throughout May, NAMI features personal stories from those experiencing mental health conditions. Reading about lived experiences encourages people to prioritize their mental health and increase awareness. You could always encourage something similar in your own workspaces, online groups, or communities. It’s vital we see a range of diverse stories.
I’ve said it before, but while these awareness days and months are great for bringing things to light, it’s also important we don’t just wait for these opportunities.
Raising awareness of mental health and supporting individuals – migrants in particular – needs to be spoken about and given due attention across the year. I hope some of the activities or events you attend or host during this month inspire you to keep the conversations going.
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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