In the UK an organization called Time to Change began recognition of this day as Time to Talk Day. Here in the US, it is observed on Saturday, February 6. It is observed to help bring awareness of the stigma mental illness has among the public and to help remove that stigma by encouraging us to talk about and to someone about our mental health and wellness.
As a departure doula, I have been called to help families deal with deaths that can be particularly painful due in large part to underlying mental health issues, such as suicide or addiction. Families can be in turmoil as a loved one is about to die due to lifelong issues where the person who is dying may never have acknowledged or addressed issues of anger, trauma and grief that had huge implications on family dynamics. Mental health is personal and private, and yet, the failure of providing effective and compassionate mental health care historically ends up affecting everyone else around us, friends, family and communities.
Secondly, the care of someone as they reach end of life calls us to care for the whole person – mind, body and spirit. If we want to live a meaningful, fulfilled life and have a peaceful “good” death, we should strive to remember that our mental self is as important to our overall health as our physical. Indeed, less than optimum mental health impacts our physical health as much as physical pain and illness do. In order to have a balanced life, we must remember that our three states – mental, physical and spiritual – hold us in balance like a tripod holds a camera or stool in balance. If one leg is weak or short, the whole thing will topple.
I know it has been especially hard to keep depression and malaise at bay during these incredibly difficult pandemic days. We have lost so many of the things we generally might have used to cope with “bad” days, a coffee, cocktail or dinner with friends, spending time with a parent, grandparent, aunt or other family member who made us feel safe and comforted. And we are staying away from these people because we love them, and because we worry about their health and safety. That worry and stress just exacerbates the loneliness, hopelessness and frustration we are feeling. The statistics about suicide, isolation, depression and loneliness during this time bears out how many of us are struggling and susceptible to mental illness issues and feel hopeless in finding or attaining the help we need.
For the new year, I decided to start focusing more on my mental well-being. At this time, I do not think I need a therapist, but I have seen one in the past, and I would do so again in a minute. I’ve also taken medications to help me cope with depression that impacted my daily life. I know that I am fortunate that I have been able to do so. Affordable health care is a fantasy in this country and for as complicated, convoluted and costly as our healthcare system is for those facing physical issues, our mental healthcare system is worse, even nonexistent for many. Having professional mental health care, such as counseling, inpatient or outpatient treatment, should not be a luxury and would help combat so many dangerous and costly societal ills from domestic and gun violence to addiction.
What can you do if you cannot afford a professional mental health visit? Well, the whole point of today’s designation is to urge you to talk to someone, anyone. You can choose how much you share with friends of family, but talking to someone, at least reminds you that you are not alone. If you are worried about the mental health of someone you know and love, reach out to them today. Talking about mental health is a two-way street. Let your loved-one know there is no shame in addressing mental health concerns and let them know you are available to listen, and not judge, if they want to talk.
Research state and area mental health resources. Due to COVID, many states have set up websites with resources that are available to provide mental health advice, check-ins or counseling sessions for little to no cost, as part of their COVID pandemic response. Be aware though, unfortunately, many of the low-cost or free services have expired as states have opened up and reduced their pandemic mitigation services and have shifted limited financial assets to vaccine administration.
As part of my mental wellness regimen, I have begun to journal and spend more time in self-reflection. Writing about it can be as helpful as talking about it if you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you can’t afford to pay. Also, being able to look back on journal entries, weeks or months later, can show us the progress we made/are making, even if we don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere.
What sorts of things could we think, write about? Well, I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve picked up from reading, training and studying those at the end of life. If we listen to those who are getting ready to die, they tell us the things they learned or wished they learned earlier in their lives. Finding peace of mind is often one important lesson they wish they had worked on more thoughtfully throughout their lives. The biggest issues that stand in our way facing our peace of mind is addressing of what we are afraid (especially if that fear is death), what is our truth or our true purpose, and how do we make ourselves and the world better? Spending time thinking about these questions every day can help us find where we need to make changes, which of those changes can be done on our own or with which issues we may need to seek professional help and assistance.
We can and should spend time reflecting on our mental state and wellbeing. However, hormones, chemicals, untrue thoughts, beliefs, trauma and grief all interfere with us feeling, hearing and acknowledging the things that positively impact our mental well-being. Oftentimes, we need help from outside sources to quiet the noise of distractions and really focus on those things. There is no shame in recognizing that you need to reach out to get that help. I’m not a professional social worker, but I am trained in being present, so if doing that for you helps you get through another day and make a positive step forward in your mental health journey, I’m here for that. Please do not hesitate to reach out. I can be your friend, silent partner or coach. I also plan to share more detailed prompts and thoughts about finding peace of mind here as well. Just do not let another day go by without believing that you are important enough to care about your mental health, because I promise you are.