NACA BLOG - May is Mental Health Awareness Month - 5/22/2020
May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May 22, 2020
Brenda Baker
NACA Director of Finance & Operations

Since 1949, the month of May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month. This year there is a whole new level of significance placed on mental health. Never in this generation's lifetime has there been a situation that impacted physical well-being, economic well-being, and mental well-being as the Coronavirus has done. Mental and emotional health is every bit as important as physical health, but because mental and emotional issues are not as visible as physical issues may be, they are much easier to ignore. Because COVID-19 has impacted everyone the world over in some way, knowing how to recognize the symptoms of mental and emotional health issues and how to address them is more important than ever before.

During May many mental health organizations nationwide join the movement to raise awareness about mental health, provide support and education and fight the stigma of mental illness. Many of these organizations advocate for policies that support people with mental health issues and their families.

Because of the widespread impact of COVID-19, there is even greater emphasis on raising awareness and providing support for mental health. But how do you recognize that you have a need to seek out those resources? When does normal worry about a situation cross over to an unhealthy state of anxiety? How do you respond when someone asks, "How are you doing" or "How are you coping in the midst of the current COVID-19 crisis?" If you are like most people, you have to stop for a moment and think about how to respond. Dealing with something that is (dare I once again use the word) "unprecedented," makes is hard to formulate the thoughts and words that describe what we are feeling.

When every aspect of life has been turned on end and there is uncertainty about what to expect in the short- and long-term future, emotions run the gamut.  Denial, fear, anxiety, depression and even desperation have gripped many who have lost family members or friends to the disease, or lost jobs due to closure of businesses that are not deemed essential by those in power. And many are experiencing loneliness that comes from forced isolation. In the midst of uncertainty, how do we break ourselves from the grip of these negative emotions and find hope for the future and joy in our day-to-day situation?

With a problem of this magnitude, we must also look to experts and world leaders to forge a path to resolution. Knowing that this is an enormous challenge and will take time, it's important that we look to ourselves, our family and friends and other resources that are available to help us cope with the mental and emotional impact.

Symptoms to look for
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) offers advice on how to cope specifically with the stress of COVID-19, first by identifying some of the symptoms, including:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening chronic health problems
  • Worsening mental health conditions
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

Where to turn
The good news is there are resources on many levels to support and assist those dealing with mental and emotional issues ranging from federal or state and local government agencies to non-profit and philanthropic organizations. Depending on the size and structure of employers' businesses, there may be counseling resources through Human Resources or Employee Assistance Programs. In some cases, talking through feelings with a respected family member or friend can help ease anxiety.

Taking the initiative to research options and plan for solutions is the first step. Taking control of what is within your power to act upon can shift emotions from helplessness to hopefulness and empowerment. Taking action builds resilience. 

Whether you are dealing with a level of mental or emotional issues that requires intervention or need to engage in strategies to reduce stress, there are some basic practices recommended by health experts. The CDC recommends some of the following ways to help cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body by eating healthy, well-balanced meals, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. And, avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • Make time to unwind by engaging in activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others, especially those you trust, with whom you can share your feelings.
  • Practice mindfulness.

Speaking of practicing mindfulness as a coping strategy, Dr. Mark Mitchnick, CEO of Mindsciences, suggests the following:

You can't overdose on mindfulness, so use as often as needed. In time, it becomes automatic and always there to get you in the right frame of mind. Engage in these mindfulness practices:

  • Recognize what you are feeling, including fear and other uncomfortable feelings. Trying to suppress negative feelings never works.
  • Accept those feelings without judgement
  • Investigate whatever the feeling is. Embrace the emotion and get curious about how it is impacting you in mind and body.
  • Take deep breaths. This is one of the most reliable ways to reboot.

It's important to realize that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Those around you may seem to be fine but internally may be struggling to cope. Taking care of yourself, and your family can help you cope with stress. Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger.

Staying healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically is essential for coping with any of life's challenges. Not only during the month of May, but every month of every year, be alert for signs and symptoms and seek out the help that is available to support and assist you through these most trying times.

Brenda Baker is the director of finance and operations at the National Association for Campus Activities. Baker has dedicated her 40-year career to managing associations' financial resources and services.

Related Professional Competency: Professional Development

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