Contributed by: Austin Raines

If you are reading this blog, odds are you are knee-deep in your own mental health concerns or the mental health concerns of someone you love. Perhaps it’s both. Regardless of what brought you to this blog, I’m so glad you’re here, taking the time to read why it’s important to recognize mental health awareness month. I’ll start with the facts. Over 1 in 5 people in the United States live with a mental health condition. 35% of the population at some point in their life will experience some form of anxiety disorder. In the United States in 2020, over 1.2 million individuals attempted suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals who are between the ages of 10-34. These numbers are sobering, but real.

Not only are those numbers real, but they are growing at an accelerated pace that demands our attention. My goal with this blog is not to sound alarming, but rather to use this as a call to action to spread the word about the harm that is caused at the hands of mental health-related concerns. Like I previously said, if you’re reading this blog, you get it. You are living it right now. Either you or someone you love is waking up every day in a fight just to try and conquer getting out of bed or to show up for school. You know mental health-related concerns are all too real, and that’s why we need your help! You have a voice, and a voice that can be used to help spread the importance of why this month matters to so many people.

This month represents an opportunity to break the silence surrounding mental health and encourage open conversations. Sometimes these conversations aren’t easy, but they are essential to creating a better and healthier way of life. For far too long, mental health concerns have been shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding. Many individuals hesitate to seek help due to fear of judgment or the social repercussions. By dedicating an entire month to mental health awareness, we can create an environment that not only accepts, but encourages individuals to speak up and share their experiences. From this, then we can help usher those people to seek the support they need.

By creating a more open and honest environment around mental health, we can all work together to reduce the stigma that still surrounds mental health concerns. I think it’s important to analyze why this stigma still exists and what we can do to help break it down. Mental health stigmas can come from a wide range of places and are often inherited from family and friends. Typically, those who still adhere to this stigma have a baseline level of fear of mental health concerns, or simply lack understanding. While it can be frustrating dealing with someone who still judges those who are properly acknowledging their mental health, I think it’s incredibly important to try and empathize with that person. We have no idea how those people were raised, what they were taught growing up, and now what they are actively trying to avoid.

For people whose lives have been greatly impacted by mental health distress, the idea of relating with someone who doesn’t understand the importance of mental health seems incredibly difficult. This is something I’m guilty of myself. However, we have to remember that Mental Health Awareness Month is as just as much for them as it is for us. We don’t know who is struggling. We don’t know who needs to hear that it’s ok to not be ok. Oftentimes it’s the people we feel are doing fine who really need to hear this message.

Sometimes we overlook this message ourselves. Whether that be because we are too focused on prioritizing other people in our lives or maybe we are fixated on the life situations we find ourselves in. In the fast-paced and demanding world we live in, it is easy to neglect our mental health in pursuit of other goals. This month encourages individuals to pause, reflect, and prioritize their own mental well-being. Self-care is an essential tool that needs to be utilized by everyone, especially those who are actively trying to take care of the ones they love. The phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” always rings true, but I hope for you that message hits differently this month and you are able to take it to heart. Self-care looks different for everyone, but really try this month to focus on activities that promote relaxation, stress reduction, and emotional well-being in yourself. Whatever self-care is for you, try and engage in it, you deserve to take care of yourself.

Mental Health Month matters as it works to shine a spotlight on an often-overlooked aspect of our overall well-being. It challenges stigma, promotes understanding, and encourages individuals to prioritize their mental health. By breaking down stigma and forming an understanding environment, we can create a culture that supports and empowers individuals facing mental health challenges. Together, we can build a more compassionate world where mental health is valued, and every person has access to the care and support they need to not just live, but to thrive.