May is traditionally known as Mental Health Awareness Month. We come together as organizations, individuals and communities to raise the collective consciousness and shine a light on “brain health” and the importance of good health. In a world where mental health issues are often overlooked or stigmatized, this annual event serves as a reminder to prioritize our psychological and emotional needs.
It also serves as an opportunity to develop understanding, empathy and support for those facing mental health issues. As we enter the post-pandemic era, the importance of mental health awareness has never been more important.
The struggle is real. Mental health affects people of all ages, backgrounds and occupations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four women worldwide will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives.
Despite being pervasive, stigma and discrimination persist and often prevent individuals from seeking help or receiving the support they need. Mental Health Awareness strives every day to combat these barriers not only in May, but by creating open conversations, sharing stories of recovery, and facilitating access to resources.
The world has experienced an unprecedented pandemic caused by COVID-19. The pandemic is casting a long shadow over our collective mental health. Long-term isolation, fear, anxiety, and loss take a toll on individuals.
Many have dealt with increased stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. This heightened awareness reaches a critical juncture, reminding us that healing and recovery includes not only physical health but also restoration of mental and emotional balance.
Center Associates, as a community mental health center, plays an important role in destigmatizing mental health conditions, fostering empathy, and encouraging individuals to seek help. Through a variety of services in our Head Start and Early Head Start programs, from primary, secondary and college education to community organizations, we strive to provide a beacon of hope that supports wellness.
Education efforts and community dialogue continue to make the public more aware, more understanding and more compassionate about brain health. In order to dispel the prejudices surrounding mental health, it is essential to build a society in which individuals can seek support without judgment.
By challenging misconceptions and encouraging open conversation, we can change the mental health narrative. We need to extend empathy, kindness, and respect to individuals facing mental health challenges, and create a supportive environment where asking for help is seen as a sign of strength and self-care.
This awareness is not just for May, it is an ongoing journey. We emphasize the importance of self-care and wellness through all of our services. This serves as a reminder for individuals to prioritize their mental health needs and participate in activities that promote good health.
Self-care practices can take many forms, including exercise, meditation, pursuing hobbies, connecting with loved ones, and seeking professional help when needed. Awareness alone is not enough. We must ensure that individuals have access to appropriate mental health support and resources.
Center Associates opened up same-day access to mental health services. This is expected to reduce long wait times for appointments and reduce individual emergency room visits. As organizations, government agencies and communities, we must invest in mental health infrastructure to make services affordable, accessible and culturally appropriate.
Mental Health Awareness Month is a reminder that mental health is just as important as physical health. By shining a light on mental health, we can break down barriers, create understanding, and foster a society in which seeking help is not only accepted but encouraged.
As we move forward on the road to recovery from the pandemic, let us pledge to put mental health first and commit to building a community that nurtures and supports the psychological well-being of all members.
Dr. Paul Daniel is Executive Director
of Center Associates in Marshalltown.