By Rebecca Sherman, clinical behavioral health specialist
Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, a time designated for education around mental health issues and mobilizing efforts to support people around the globe.
This topic is important to me not only because I’m a licensed clinical social worker and claims practitioner, but it is also important to me as a spouse, parent, friend, colleague and concerned community member. No matter our profession or role, each of us has a responsibility to learn more about mental wellness and what we can do to help ourselves and others.
As World Mental Health Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about this subject in terms of four As.
It may sound basic, but there are still many people who don’t understand enough about mental health conditions or their prevalence. Here are a couple of important numbers to consider, particularly in terms of the people you know and interact with every day:
- Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime.
- About one in eight people globally lives with mental illness every day.
In the last few years, three significant stressors have further exacerbated mental wellness concerns: sharp political divides and unrest, increased worldwide violence and the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of what people are feeling and experiencing are normal human responses to these highly abnormal circumstances.
When we struggle with our mental wellness, it trickles down into nearly every aspect of life. As a society, we must normalize mental health challenges and eliminate the stigmas related to mental wellness issues and pursuit of appropriate treatment.
On the topic of treatment, proper and equitable access to mental health care is critical. Regrettably, the United States lags behind other developed nations in this regard; whereas mental health is generally embedded within holistic wellness care around the world, in the U.S. it’s often separated from mainstream medical care and afforded less cost coverage. This divide creates barriers to care, particularly for those in underserved populations who may already be facing life challenges, such as poverty, domestic violence and other traumatic circumstances.
One positive development of the COVID era has been an increase in mental wellness access points. When in-person treatments were not available at the height of the pandemic, new care options emerged, such as texting with a therapist, video sessions via telehealth, supportive mobile apps and more. The long-term staying power of these options remains to be seen, but they seem to appeal to many younger consumers and, so far, appear to be here to stay. Another step in the right direction was the recent update from a 10-digit to a three-digit (988) lifeline accessible across the U.S., so anyone in distress can more readily call for resources and support during a mental health emergency.
Even with these improvements, there remains a significant gap between ongoing demand for mental health care and available professional resources. The World Health Organization’s 2022 theme for World Mental Health Day is “making mental health and well-being for all a global priority.” Bridging the access gap is a big piece of making that vision a reality.
When it comes to our physical health, we know we must maintain proper wellness by remaining active, eating a well-balanced diet, taking vitamins, and getting regular medical checkups. We have the same individual responsibility to prioritize our mental wellness.
It’s important to check in with yourself each day regarding your mental wellness — the same way your fitness tracker or smartphone may periodically prompt you to take a movement break. Do some honest introspection and consider if you’re experiencing any signs of burnout, whether physical (exhaustion, poor sleep), emotional (detachment, lack of motivation) or behavioral (isolation, procrastination). Then, give yourself permission to adjust your expectations accordingly. Some days, it’s OK, and even normal, to not be OK. We cannot control the world around us (the past few years have made that abundantly clear), but we can control what we do to maintain our overall well-being.
In addition to personal accountability, we also have a collective responsibility to look out for one another. Whether it’s through our families, schools, houses of worship, employers, communities, social networks or otherwise, it’s incumbent on each of us to watch for warning signs of mental distress and provide a support system to anyone who may be struggling.
This is the kind of work I’m privileged to do every day as a member of Sedgwick’s behavioral health solutions team. We assist clients’ injured employees in addressing and overcoming psychosocial factors affecting the workers’ compensation claims process. At Sedgwick, caring counts, and that means being accountable for the well-being of the whole person — including their mental wellness.
Adaptability and action
The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have forced us all to adapt to profound societal and personal changes. This new reality can certainly feel out of our control at times, but we can control how we respond to it.
Sedgwick’s behavioral health team focuses on psychoeducation — teaching people the kinds of coping skills they can use to be more adaptable in times of stress. Resilience is a quality that can be learned and cultivated with proper practice. In honor of World Mental Health Day, here are a few tactics you can use to improve your own adaptability and support those around you:
- Talking about feelings: I’m encouraged to see the openness of many young people talking about mental health. You can help remove the stigma around discussing emotions by honestly sharing your own. Ask others how they’re feeling (vs. doing), but respect their choice not to share.
- Setting boundaries: There is no shame in establishing healthy boundaries for yourself and others. It’s OK to say “no” sometimes, especially when things start to feel overwhelming or uncomfortable. Conducting daily check-ins with yourself (as explained above) can help you determine your own limits at a given time. Healthy boundaries are a wonderful thing.
- Utilizing your benefits: Many employers offer a variety of benefits that support mental wellness, such as employee assistance programs (EAP), coverage for therapy via telehealth and/or medical plans, access to paid wellness apps and more. Take advantage of these offerings, and encourage others to do the same. Use all your allotted paid time off (PTO) before it expires so you can relax and recharge.
- Practicing gratitude: Take time each day to focus on positive things in your life. Look for opportunities to thank those around you and to recognize your colleagues for specific things you appreciate about them.
Individually and collectively, we can’t afford not to invest in our mental wellness. Small and consistent steps toward greater awareness, access to care, accountability and adaptability can make a big difference in the lives of so many.
In honor of World Mental Health Day, take some time to think about what you can do to address your own mental wellness or to support someone else’s. If you or someone you know are in need of additional services or resources, please reach out to your providers for assistance.