#YouAreNotAlone – May Is Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), this year’s campaign is #YouAreNotAlone. The organization’s website states, “we will use this time to focus on the healing value of connecting in safe ways, prioritizing mental health, and acknowledging that it is okay not to be okay.”
At our area agency, we recognize the importance of mental health when it comes to the people we support, their parents/guardians, Home Care Providers/Direct Support Professionals, and our employees.
Several years ago, our partnership with Center For Life Management (CLM), the regional mental health center began. The organization’s mission is to “promote the health and well-being of individuals, families, and organizations.” Some of those we serve have a dual diagnosis (a developmental disability and mental health disorder) which makes them eligible for services through both agencies. Jennifer Chisholm, Director of Clinical Services, and Julie Lago, Director of Collaborative Care at CLM have worked together to create the Continuum of Collaborative Care model. The model prioritizes person-centered needs and looks at the unique needs of each person.
Normalizing conversations surrounding mental health and attending mental health centers is important. Julie said, “We all experience ups and downs. Having changes in our mental health is normal. People shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed about having mental health challenges.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults with disabilities report frequent mental distress almost five times as often as people without a disability. Reasons someone with a disability may experience more mental distress than others include: more frequent and/or intense worries about their health and feeling as though they are being left out in school or the community because of their disability. Throughout the past year, reports have shown that isolation, disrupted routines, and disconnect has increased mental health issues both for people with and without disabilities. According to a December 2020 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 42% of people surveyed have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression which was a spike from 11% in December 2019.
Julie notes an increase in people receiving services from both CLM and Community Crossroads throughout the past year or so. While some of those numbers could be attributed to the pandemic, Julie said proactive approaches such as educating individuals about resources and establishing strong partnerships that focus on communicating in helpful and positive ways have led to people receiving the time and attention they deserve.
Even though the past year has presented its challenges, Jennifer said it has also opened lots of doors to new and accessible ways to support those who need it. Virtual meetings have been a positive experience for many people. Some people face transportation issues or are nervous speaking about their mental health in an unfamiliar place. Virtual meetings allow one to speak honestly in the comfort of their own home. However, individuals can visit the Derry and Salem locations for in-person meetings. Another positive way to view the past year is that because we have all gone through the pandemic and as a result have felt similar ways (isolated, anxious) our area agency and CLM can better understand what people are going through and give ideas that seem to work for others.
Jennifer Chisholm, Director of Clinical Services
Jennifer said the change from meeting with individuals in person to the mostly virtual world we are currently living in was a “seamless transition” because of the trusting relationships we have with our partnering organizations. “We are only as good as the network and groups we build. People know that they can always depend on us,” she said.
There are actions YOU can take to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month and become an ally. Educating yourself about the mental health struggles people face and the reasons those struggles exist, listening to people when they are open about their experiences and how they are feeling, and sharing content on your social media pages about mental health are all ways you can join in on the conversation. When posting content about mental health throughout May, use #YouAreNotAlone.