Author: Christy Hong Dawson, LCSW
In honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m joining OBE to facilitate and spark conversation around mental health and wellbeing. I will be guiding OBE’s team through sessions on topics including signs and symptoms to be aware of, how long-term stress can lead to mental illness, adverse effects of COVID-19 on mental health along with the impact on BIPOC communities, as well as tips on finding a therapist that’s right for you.
Mental health, like our physical health, is integral to our overall well-being. It influences how we think, feel, and behave, which impacts how we handle stress, socially connect with others, and maintain our physical health. Our mental health can also change over time, running the risk of suffering when environmental demands exceed a person’s resources and ability to cope. It is important to note that mental health and mental illness are not interchangeable terms. A person can be struggling with mental health issues and not have a diagnosable mental illness; conversely, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of mental wellness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults have had or currently have symptoms of a mental illness each year. Raising awareness to the importance of mental health and how it is a common health condition, can help the millions of people living in the U.S. that are impacted by mental health issues. Here are some ways we can all observe National Mental Health Awareness Month.
Take care of yourself.
Life comes with peaks and valleys. Some situations are more challenging or solvable than others. Taking a pause to look inward and check in with ourselves helps us understand how we’re feeling and tend to what we need. Deliberately taking care of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health is what self-care is all about. Incorporating activities that bring you joy, peace, or respite into your daily routine is more sustainable in the long run for your mental wellness, than just a one-off activity.
This can look like:
Taking social media breaks, limiting news streaming, working out, eating healthy, journaling, taking a mental health day from work, practicing mindfulness or meditation.
Take care of your loved ones, accept support from your loved ones.
Community care recognizes that we don’t all have equal access to time and money, which are the main resources required for self-care. It reminds us that we as human beings are interdependent, seeking connection to satisfy our innate need to give and receive love. Community care strengthens an individual’s sense of self by performing acts of kindness and compassion and increasing a sense of belonging by receiving support from others when they are not able to do it alone.
This can look like:
Reaching out to a friend or family member to check in and see how they are feeling, sending gratitude messages to co-workers, actively listening in conversation and demonstrating empathy; asking a loved one to accompany you on a hike, to a doctor’s appointment, or to pick up groceries for you.
Talk about mental health.
Keeping it real, if it feels safe to share what you are going through or what you’ve been through. While attitudes about mental health are changing, it is still a long road ahead of us in combatting stigma and normalizing asking for help and seeking treatment. This is one of the aims of the month as the stigma attached to mental health has led to countless delays in treatment AND research on the matter.
This can look like:
Holding space for open conversations with peers and co-workers, scheduling time to connect outside of work, sharing your own experiences, expressing unbiased support and sparking conversations with someone new.
I am a bilingual, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with over 15 years of experience in the mental health field. I’ve worked for Los Angeles County’s Department of Mental Health for 13 years in various roles and programs, serving very diverse and traditionally underserved and vulnerable populations. My most current role with this department, as a Clinical Supervisor, has been working in a collaboration program with the County’s Department of Health Services. My small teams of licensed therapists, case workers and clerks, are co-located in various Department of Health clinics, providing short term, Evidence Based Practice therapy to adult patients experiencing mild to moderate anxiety and/or depression.
Over the last couple of years, my fundamental beliefs in the importance and power of holistic wellness beyond traditional therapy has led me to become a certified energy healer focused on delivering traditional and alternative wellness services such as guided meditation, sound meditation, and energy healing. My sister and I recently created Sacred Vibras, to bring these offerings and ancestral practices to the BIPOC community, centering their/our wellness. Through this, I’ve been able to expand and build my interests of creating inclusive spaces that bridge mental health with alternative healing services. I am a mother of two under five, and incorporate the following self care/community care practices into my daily routine: meditation, sound healing, movement by way of dancing, quiet time when I’m alone on car rides, pauses and deep breaths while gentle parenting, letting the laundry pile up, setting boundaries to minimize overcommitting, and accepting respite when family and friends offer to watch my kids.