Aiken: Caring for your mental health is important

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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Since 1949, this declaration has the goal of raising awareness and educating the public about the importance of mental health. It also strives to reduce the stigmas that surround mental illness, as well as send the message to everyone that attaining mental wellness is possible.

Each year, millions of people face the reality of living with mental or behavioral health issues. One in four adults in America experience a mental illness during at least one point throughout their lives.

This is approximately 65% of the population. Mental health awareness has been steadily growing around the world, but it is still largely below what it should and could be. Often, getting treated for a mental illness is something looked at as "embarrassing" and people rarely want others to know it's happening.

Mental health is important at every stage of life; it affects how we think, feel and act. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Therefore, it's not surprising that mental health and physical health are closely connected. Mental health plays a major role in people's ability to maintain good physical health and affects the ability to participate in health-promoting behaviors. In turn, problems with physical health can have a serious impact on mental health and decrease a person's ability to participate in treatment and recovery.

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So, it makes sense that mental health, just like physical health, needs to be taken care of and maintained. Bringing awareness of mental health increases the chances for early intervention, which can decrease the severity of the illness, and result in a faster recovery.

Despite continuous advances in mental health awareness efforts, there is still much more work to be done. Many people aren't exposed to mental health issues until they are directly impacted by a tragedy such as suicide. It is critical that we start conversations about what mental illness is, how to recognize it and the fact that it is a treatable illness. There are some simple steps you can take to help raise the awareness about mental health.

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Now is the perfect time to start conversations about mental illnesses.

Ask family, friends, and coworkers how they are doing and really listen to the answers. If they give any indication that they are depressed or anxious, let them know that there are resources available to help them.

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If you sense that they might be considering self-harm or suicide, guide them to seek help immediately. Open up about your own experiences. If you have struggled or are struggling with mental illness, share your story. Hearing another person is going through the same thing you are can be a relief. It can be the nudge a person needs to get help and look into treatment.

When you hear people around you talk about mental illness in negative terms, ask them to consider the impact of their words. Any language that reinforces the stigma of mental illness is harmful and might keep someone from getting help. It is important to know that if you are wondering whether one person's efforts can make a difference, the answer is "Absolutely!" Every conversation you have about the importance of recognizing and treating mental illness creates a ripple that reaches people in your circle, community, and far beyond.

United Counseling Service provides outpatient counseling and addictions services, emergency mental health services, extensive rehabilitation services, home and school-based services, employment services for people recovering from mental illness or with developmental disabilities and Early Childhood Services. In response to the COVID 19 pandemic, UCS has developed a warm line available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for anyone living in Bennington County. We are here for you! For more information about UCS visit ucsvt.org or call 802-442-5491.

Katie Aiken is the clinical intake coordinator for UCS Youth and Family Services and is a certified mental health first aid trainer.


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