Mental Health Awareness Month

Written by Alicia Hannigan, LCMHC

Walt Witman once famously said, “Be curious. Not judgmental.”  To be honest, I can’t tell you much of anything about Walt Witman; however, I can tell you that as a licensed mental health professional who works with children and families, embodying a spirit of curiosity over judgment is a powerful tool.  Right now, I invite you to be curious with me – curious about mental health.       

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and I wonder, what meaning does hearing the words “mental health” have for you?     

Often in our society, mental health is equated with mental illness, and with this comes a stigma of fear and shame.  Here’s the thing: mental health is simply part of our overall health.  Everyone has “mental health” – it encompases our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

It is also often assumed that mental health involves just our brain or the mind, when in fact, mental health involves our whole body and is deeply connected to our physical health and our environment – like three strands of a rope braided together.  How much sleep you get, what food you eat, your access to resources, and your social support network are just a few of the physical and environmental factors that greatly impact your mental health.   And – the state of your mental health greatly impacts these factors in return.  

Our mental health exists on a spectrum and often changes from day to day.  One day you may be feeling tired and irritable, while another – well-rested and motivated.  On the far ends of the spectrum is when one might be experiencing mental illness.  However, it is important to note, this does not mean that mental illness is uncommon.  In fact, according to research from the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. and 1 in 6 children in the U.S. experience mental illness each year (NIMH, 2020). 

I work with many individuals who fall within these statistics, and many who do not.  Understanding someone and helping them understand themselves on a deeper level is a great privilege, and is a humbling journey that has equally taught me much about myself.  

Mental illness is nothing to fear or feel shameful of; it is important to get the help that’s needed.  AND – you don’t need to be experiencing mental illness to improve your mental health.  Want to have more energy?  Want to feel more relaxed?  Maybe start by being curious about your mental health and curious about what is impacting it.  

Rhithm supports students’ and teachers’ mental health and fosters this curiosity by encouraging self-reflection, identifying needs, and providing in the moment activities to support their overall health and well-being.  

If you’re ready to transform your curiosity into action, here is a list of activities that are worth trying.  You are important and so is your mental health.   

  1. Log-on and Get Into Rhithm for a quick self-regulation video!  
  2. Each night, write down or say to yourself, one aspect of the day you are grateful for. 
  3. Throughout the day, drink the amount of water your body needs.
  4. Take a screen break and walk outside or around the house.
  5. Message a friend and share how you’ve been.  

For more information about mental health, mental illness, and related resources, you can visit  https://www.nimh.nih.gov

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