Mental Health Matters (by guest Sharon Atwood)
Seen any green ribbons this month and wondered what they meant? In case you didn’t know, the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental Health Awareness was started in the U.S. in 1949 by the National Association for Mental Health. Initially, it was a week-long but was later expanded to be an entire month.
Millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. One in five will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. I have bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by periods of mania and depression. My episodes began in college and continued into young adulthood. Even with an advanced degree, I had to go on disability early in life since employment proved to be a monumental challenge for me mostly due to social issues. Currently, however, I have been successful in managing my disorder through medication, counseling, and a strong support system.
I am glad to support raising awareness about mental health, fighting stigma, and educating the public. I have always taken the stance that one’s health is not confined to physicality. Is an internal organ more important than the mind? Why shouldn’t mental health be just as relevant as one’s heart or liver? Observing Mental Health Month is an effort to train a nation to enable adequate support and quality care for the mentally ill to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
Everybody needs good mental health, right? It’s not just for people with mental illness. We all need to keep our mental health in check to make sure we are functioning at our best.
Here are some tools I believe are valuable in promoting mental health:
1) Self-care (physical and mental):
- You know that exercise is going to make the list. Exercise is on a lot of lists!
- I enjoy a hot bath after a long or high-stress day. I might even throw in some bubbles.
- While I can’t say I always do it, a nutritious meal low in carbohydrates makes a body say “thank you.”
- Watching a few of my favorite television programs during the week allows me to escape and recharge.
- Working on a jigsaw puzzle is fun and relaxing for me.
- Who doesn’t enjoy listening to music? Playing music while driving diminishes my stress level since driving can be taxing for me. I find Christian music to be particularly satisfying.
This area is more challenging for people with mental illness. My natural inclination is to stay home, but that’s not a healthy recourse day in/day out. Interaction with other people is vital. Otherwise, we become isolated, which can lead to depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and all sorts of other bad stuff.
-Going to a movie, playing cards or board games, dining out, stepping out for a new experience – I tried goat yoga once! These are all socializing activities that work for me.
-Going to church is probably my biggest social outlet. I am a member of a large church. I struggle with feelings of apprehension and compensate by sitting next to my mentor who provides moral support. I practically force myself to engage in small groups, but it’s worth it.
-While I can’t say I belong to one, an exercise class offers both socialization and self-care. Two for the price of one healthy mind!
3) Bringing order into my chaos:
Decluttering my home and organizing my closets created a healthier environment. I also hired a house cleaner.
Mental health for me means the ability to approach life with a positive attitude despite my disability. I press onward, one day at a time seeking ways to maintain stability and productivity. Unfortunately, medicine and doctors including psychiatrists and counselors are part of my mental health picture. This is a good thing since I no longer find myself in self-destructive situations as I once did. My mental health is good, my outlook is hopeful, and my life skills have improved.
Some unexpected blessings have been brought into my life as a result of my mental illness: a strong spirit of empathy for others especially those with mental illness, a vast need for God, courage to overcome obstacles, and an elevated sense of creativity. Poetry and writing have been noteworthy outlets.
Karen and I are currently writing a devotional book for people with mental health issues and their caregivers/advocates. We have titled it Outta My Mind, Into His Heart. Each devotion offers my point of view as a person with mental illness and then Karen’s, my advocate’s, point of view. We have been transparent covering some hard topics, let me tell you. Using scripture, biblical truths, and stories, the devotion provides a snapshot into the life of a person with mental illness. We will let you know when it’s published!
Born in rural Alabama, Sharon Atwood knows about country living, though now a city girl in Birmingham. With degrees in Language Arts and Special Education, her background lends itself well to her poetry expressing feelings of darker days. Her short stories are found in the Short & Sweet book series published by Grace Publishing and in the Triumph from Tragedy book by the Christian Writers for Life. Sharon serves as a speaker and representative for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. At the end of the day, she curls up with her cat, Selah.