By Rachel Painter, LPC

The month of January and the winter season typically is a time of reflection, as well as a time to set goals and implement changes. Usually, these goals center around something we can do to improve our physical health. But what if you spent 2020 setting intentions on improving and supporting the mental health of yourself, your loved ones, and your community?
One month out of the year, we recognize as Mental Health Awareness Month. Organizations focus on campaigns that reduce stigma, share statistics on the rates of Mental Health diagnoses, and provide resources on how to seek treatment. While more and more individuals recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, there is still a lack of understanding around mental health disorders and sometimes even fear of opening up a discussion about the topic. Furthermore, individuals feel lost, not knowing where to begin in supporting someone who is struggling with a mental health disorder.
A 2015 study by the National Institute for Mental Health found that nearly 1 in 5 – 43.8 million – American adults suffer from a mental illness in any given year. Adolescents ages 13-18 are also impacted by mental illness, as 21.4% of them will experience a severe mental illness at some point in their life. Given these numbers, it’s evident that Mental Health Awareness is a crucial topic. But instead of taking a month out the year to reflect on these staggering numbers and steps that need to be taken, what if we made small, mindful, steps to support our mental health and the mental health of those we interact with daily?

Below are some practical intentions we can set that aim to improve our practices that support our mental health and that of the ones we love:

Familiarize yourself with signs and symptoms of mental health disorders. We must be able to recognize signs of things like burnout or depression in ourselves, and in others who are close to us. We may not be able to prevent a mental health crisis from happening, but the more you know, the more you can advocate for yourself or a family member. Helpful resources to familiarize yourself include the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Meet feelings with respect, compassion, and empathy. It’s easy to gloss over our own emotions or the feelings of others. Take time to journal and hold space for your feelings: observe, describe, and validate. Or support others by utilizing reflective listening. According to research, a supportive environment can significantly improve treatment outcomes, and vulnerability in a safe and supportive environment can reduce shame and stigma surrounding mental health disorders.

Research tangible supports in your area. What does support look like to you? Supports for mental health disorders can come in many forms, and treatment can have many elements. For example, yoga and workout classes could be a supportive environment for someone’s treatment. Or maybe a support group or group therapy would be appropriate. Familiarize yourself with treatment options and treatment types in your area. Find yoga or wellness studios who utilize inclusive language and practices around mental health or who are trauma-informed. Or maybe research organizations/tools that help connect people with the appropriate type of therapy provider, based on their needs. Again, the more knowledgeable you are, the more you can advocate when you find gaps in your support system.