It’s hard to say where we are with the pandemic these days. After a hopeful dip in case counts and hospitalizations, both numbers are creeping up as new and more-contagious strains of the virus emerge this spring.

Nearly 1 in every 5 people – that’s 53 million people in America – has a diagnosable mental health condition. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-888-568-1112 or 911 to speak with a trained clinician who can connect you to the closest crisis center. fizkes/Shutterstock.com

Whatever the near term holds, Mental Health Awareness Month is the time to acknowledge that COVID-19 is a pandemic that exacerbated a preexisting and pervasive health condition in our society.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 1 in every 5 people – that’s 53 million people in America – has a diagnosable mental health condition. This 20 percent of our population cuts across geography, income, politics, race and religion, and it includes our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, colleagues, friends and neighbors.

No one is immune. But everyone is deserving of compassion, support and access to appropriate treatment.

The path to resilience and recovery starts with this important truth: Diseases and disorders of the brain deserve and respond to treatment and care as much as any other disease or disorder that people experience.

Despite advances in our understanding of behavioral health issues and our own knowledge of friends and family members who struggle, the stigma surrounding behavioral health still prevents people who need help from seeking it. But whether a condition affects your heart, your lungs or your brain, it requires treatment. We would never tell someone with a broken leg that they should stop focusing on the pain and just get it together. We don’t consider taking antibiotics for an ear infection as something to be ashamed of. And we know that sepsis isn’t something that we can just power through.

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Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders are no different, yet people who are experiencing behavioral health issues often hear the same or similar responses.

This month, I invite you to stand with me in promoting the message that seeking help for behavioral health or substance use issues isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength. Also, please join me in encouraging people to seek the treatment they need to get well.

For Mental Health Awareness Month, and every month, we can all be part of the solution by taking these important steps:

Pay attention to these potential signs of behavioral health issues, in ourselves and others:

• Personality change.

• Agitation and irritability.

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• Excessive fear or worry.

• Withdrawal.

• Poor self-care.

• Hopelessness.

• Changes in eating habits.

• Increase in use or abuse of substances.

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And if you or someone you know is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, call the Maine Statewide Crisis Hotline at 1-888-568-1112 or dial 911 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – to speak with a trained clinician who can connect you to the closest crisis center.

• Be mindful of your own emotional well-being and its importance to you and your loved ones.

• Talk openly about your emotional well-being with family and friends, and encourage them to do the same.

• Be supportive of people who are thinking about seeking help.

Treatment for behavioral health issues can both transform and save lives. But you don’t have to be a psychiatrist, a clinical social worker or a health care provider to help. Recognizing that our mental health is just as important as our physical health – and treating it that way – will improve your own life and the lives of others.

 

 


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