By Carolyn Hardin
May is Mental Health Month. Started by Mental Health America, it has been observed since 1949 and is a great time to talk about our mental health and behavioral health care.
Behavioral health, which includes mental health and substance use disorders, is critical to one’s overall health and well-being. While more than one in five Americans have a behavioral health condition, these are common and treatable.
Unfortunately, many people experiencing mental health symptoms or substance use problems are reluctant to seek help because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and obtaining help. People living with a mental health condition are made to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control.
To learn more about mental health, please visit Mental Health America, mentalhealthamerica.net/may, and the National Alliance for Mental Illness, https://www.nami.org. NAMI also has a local chapter which provides support for people with mental health conditions and their families. You can reach NAMI by calling 970-618-7770 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Other local resources for education and support are the Aspen Hope Center, aspenhopecenter.org, Aspen Strong, aspenstrong.org, and Mind Springs Health, mindspringshealth.org. Mind Springs also offers a full range of treatment services for behavioral health. Others providing behavioral health services include Mountain Family Health Centers, https://www.mountainfamily.org/, and substance use recovery centers, private therapists and counselors throughout the valley.
What about our own mental health? If you are looking for information about behavioral health illness and wellness, or you are feeling depressed, anxious or worried about your substance use or other compulsive behaviors, there are many resources available for you, including those listed above. You can find information on their websites or call their helplines. Mental Health America (link above) has fact sheets on specific behaviors and habits that may be a warning sign of something more, risk factors and signs of mental illness, and how and where to get help when needed. Mind Springs Health provides the community, at no cost, access to a web and mobile-based program called myStrength, which is designed to “inform and empower consumers to be active participants in their journey to becoming — and staying — mentally and physically healthy.”
People experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently — and some engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem. Sometimes people struggling with mental health concerns develop habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. Activities like excessive drinking, compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive Internet use, excessive spending, or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path towards crisis.
Mountain Family Health Centers wants everyone to know that mental illnesses are real, recovery is always the goal, and there is help. When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early — and provide effective treatment.
There are several things we can all do for ourselves and our community for our mental health and wellness. We can educate ourselves about behavioral health and what it is like to live with a mental health condition; share stories and treatment successes; and commit to reducing the stigma around behavioral health and seeking care. NAMI has an anti-stigma campaign you can participate in at https://www.nami.org/stigma, and several of our local organizations are working on this as well.
Carolyn Hardin is a development consultant for Mountain Family Health Centers and other nonprofits, with 30 years of experience in public health and human services in the Roaring Fork Valley. She can be reached at email@example.com.