Spreading Acceptance and Support for Mental Health Awareness Month
Since 1949, organizations across the United States have been recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month. This month-long awareness event aims to increase awareness about the vital role mental health plays in our overall health and well-being. This year SAMHSA has outlined 5 key areas to focus on this month.
Each week in May, we will post an article related to these topics. This week’s focus is on spreading acceptance and support for the people we know and love who are experiencing mental health challenges. Millions of people are affected by mental health challenges on an annual basis. Perhaps including our family members, neighbors, the people we meet in our community, and maybe even the person looking at you in the mirror.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
Exploring the Attitudes of Mindfulness in Relation to Mental Health
Jon Kabat-Zinn defined nine foundational attitudes of mindfulness. These attitudes can be can also be cultivated with attention and awareness. In the context of mental health, each one of these attitudes can be beneficial (both for clients and providers). Let’s begin this exploration with attitude of acceptance.
Acceptance is seeing things as they are in the present moment. Throughout each day, humans often waste a lot of energy denying and resisting what is already fact. When we do that, we are basically trying to force situations to be the way we would like them to be, which only makes for more tension, and can sometimes prevents positive change from occurring.
A major part of acceptance is recognizing that throughout a person’s life, their mental health can move along a continuum (an example is depicted below). Depending on a multitude of factors (i.e., biological factors, life experiences, lifestyle, access to supportive resources) a person can move across this continuum. By assessing, acknowledging and accepting where a person currently finds themselves can help them to identify when and what support may be needed at that given time. It can also help a person see how far they’ve come when they’ve been actively working on supporting their mental health. This continuum can also be useful, to explore a wide array of experiences pertaining to mental health.
Being an impartial witness of your own experience requires that you become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experience. We normally get caught up in reacting. Non-judgment can help us observe what is going on and take a step back from it. When someone is going through a mental health crisis, they may find their internal self-talk very judgmental. They also may find themselves continually wishing things were different, and pushing up against what actually is. This can cause additional mental frustration, anxiety, and discontent. In addition, a person going through a mental health crisis may be judged by others for what they are going through. While stigma has been reduced throughout the years, there is still a lot of judgement when it comes to mental health challenges.
A form of wisdom, patience demonstrates that we accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. We intentionally remind ourselves not to be impatient with ourselves because we are tense or agitated or frightened. Healing from a mental health crisis or injury takes time. The attitude of patience helps can help give space needed for the healing process to occur.
An open and curious beginner’s mind allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise. No moment is the same as any other – each one is unique and contains unique possibilities. This attitude can be supportive, especially for someone who gets stuck in always or nothing thinking (i.e., “I’ve always been anxious”). By seeing each moment as a new possibility, they’ll likely discover there are moments where anxiety is not present and see more of the waves of anxiety they experience.
Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is an integral part of meditation training and various therapy techniques. This attitude illustrates, the importance of a person learning to trust their own intuition and authority, rather than always looking outside of themselves for guidance. It helps them to trust, if something doesn’t feel right, honor your feelings.
This attitude is seeing things as they are in the present moment. It’s an attitude of trying less and being more. When a person is focused on being somewhere different than they already are (i.e., further down the healing path than they currently are) they are sending a signal to the brain that they are not good enough in this moment. The attitude of non-striving allows a person to be witness to each step along their healing journey, and to focus simply on each step rather than whatever their end goal is.
When we start paying attention to our inner experience, we rapidly discover that there are certain thoughts and feelings and situations that the mind seems to want to hold on to. Similarly, there are others that we try to get rid of, prevent, or protect ourselves from having. In mindfulness, we learn to let go. We notice what our experience is, and then we have the opportunity to re-direct the attention. This skill is supportive in identifying thoughts in the moment, and re-directing the attention which helps a person to avoid getting stuck in rumination.
Gratitude has been described as an emotion, a virtue, a moral sentiment, a motive, a coping response, a skill, an action, an attitude, and a practice. Positive psychologists define gratitude as a deeper appreciation for someone (or something) that produces lasting positivity. We tend to think gratitude is simply saying “thank you” to someone, however it is daily practice that we can cultivate over time, and throughout our lives. Research by Robert Emmons has demonstrated that practicing gratitude has many benefits. Some include experiencing a greater sense of meaning in life, an increased sense of well-being, improved optimism, increased happiness, a stronger sense of self, better relationships, and enhanced physical and mental health.
Generosity is the giving of resources (i.e., time, money, attention) voluntarily. People who have (or have developed) a generous spirit share their resources willingly with others. Generosity can even include giving to yourself. The gift of attention – to self or another human being is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
By developing and cultivating these nine attitudes (both within ourselves and our clients) we can consciously support psychological well-being.
In summary for this week, according to SAMHSA, when it comes to mental health, small actions equal big impact. Three small actions that are important to consider include:
- If you are worried about your mental health or are worried about someone you know, there are resources and people out there who are willing to help, no matter what your situation is. 988 is a wonderful step forward in supporting people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
- Talking about mental health helps promote acceptance and encourages people to seek help.
- Whether we share resources, encourage others to seek help, or simply are there for someone when they need us, we instill hope and can help others to reach out when they need to most.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2023, April). Mental health by the numbers. NAMI. Retrieved May 1, 2023, from https://www.nami.org/mhstats
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2023, April 24). Mental Health Awareness Month toolkit. SAMHSA. Retrieved May 1, 2023, from https://www.samhsa.gov/programs/mental-health-awareness-month/toolkit
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