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It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: Tips and Resources for Mental Health Awareness Month

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Date: May 01, 2024
Category: Mental Health

It’s May, so just checking in… “How is everybody doing?”

In case you missed it, Sesame Street’s lovable Elmo posed that very question on social media earlier this year – and the responses came flooding in. From relationship problems to financial troubles, and feelings of exhaustion, angst, loneliness, and disconnection, people shared their struggles. At last count, Elmo’s post had garnered more than 217 million views, 15,000 reposts, 165,000 likes, and 45,000 responses on one social media platform alone. What this helps reveal is that many of us are NOT okay – and it’s important to acknowledge and address that, and make sure people know that help is available. SAMHSA has several supports and resources that can help.

Mental Health Conditions Can Affect Anyone

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a good reminder to focus on the importance of mental health and its impact on our well-being. Mental health conditions can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, or income level. Recent data (PDF | 622 KB) help underscore that our nation is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages and backgrounds, including young children and older adults. To put this into perspective, if you were standing in a room full of people, at least one out of every five of those people likely experienced anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions in the last year.

The good news is… mental health conditions are treatable. As illustrated by the many athletes, entertainers, and prominent public figures who have spoken openly about their experiences, people living with mental illness can — and do — lead happy and productive lives. And this includes serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia, which can interfere with someone’s life and ability to function. Similar to medical conditions like diabetes, with early and consistent treatment, people with serious mental illnesses can manage their conditions, overcome challenges, and enjoy meaningful, productive lives.

At SAMHSA, we are committed to increasing access to mental health services and supports nationwide. We understand that many Americans may feel reluctant to reach out for help or to seek care; we want you to know that we see you, we hear you, and we support you. We believe that with the right care, anyone affected by – or at risk for – a mental health condition can achieve well-being and thrive. And if you take care of yourself, you might also be a support for others -- a lifeline for someone else.

Language Matters When It Comes to Mental Health

The more we talk about mental health together, the more normalized these conversations become – ultimately empowering people to seek the help they need. And fortunately, more people are now talking about and prioritizing their mental health, just as they would their physical health. They are also embracing self-care to improve overall well-being. This is critical because when you take care of your mental health, your physical and emotional health also improves, and you’re more likely to learn and work productively, and effectively cope with life stressors. However, self-care looks different for everyone. Exercise, sleep, and a balanced diet might be the strategy for some, while others might benefit from joining a support group, or seeing a mental health professional. It’s important to identify what works best for you.

Just like you might share tips with friends about maintaining a healthy weight or improving blood pressure, consider taking the opportunity this month to share your experience of how you are caring for your mental health. Help enforce the message that “it’s okay to not be okay,” and encourage people (PDF | 98 KB) to seek help when they need it. And, as you have those conversations, think about the words that you use: language is powerful, and your choice of words can help break down misconceptions, or contribute to them. One of the most impactful ways to communicate about mental health is to use person-first language to put the person before their diagnosis, disability, or other characteristics. For example:

  • Instead of saying, “John is schizophrenic…or bipolar,” say “John is a person who has schizophrenia…or who has bipolar disorder.”
  • Instead of describing someone as “suffering from a mental illness,” say “experiencing or living with a mental illness.”

It’s also important to use language that promotes inclusivity and respect. When we use open, compassionate, and equitable language around mental health issues, we empower ourselves and encourage others to find the help they need.

Take Action

SAMHSA will host several “Mental Health Awareness Month” events for partners and grantees throughout May. Details on any virtual events open to the public will be available on our Mental Health Awareness Month webpage.

Mental Health Action Day is May 16, providing an opportunity to take the next step from awareness to action for yourself, a loved one, or your community. This could be as simple as adopting a positive “mental health habit” like eating a balanced diet, getting a good night’s rest, or exercising, or offering support to a friend or family member who is struggling. Here are some additional strategies to consider on Mental Health Action Day.

  • Practice gratitude: Think about what you’re thankful for – like supportive family and friends, a safe home, or even a beautiful day. Or find something to celebrate, like a recent accomplishment. Consciously practicing gratitude may reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
  • Volunteer: Participating in community organizations and finding opportunities to help others can provide a positive boost and sense of purpose.
  • Engage in random acts of kindness: Buy a cup of coffee for the person in line behind you, hold the door open for a stranger, or make food for a neighbor or colleague. There are many small acts that can brighten someone else’s day.
  • Practice mindfulness: Take a few minutes to meditate, take a yoga class or do some breathing exercises to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
  • Seek Help: Whether it is for yourself of someone else, seek help through SAMHSA’s resources. Recovery is possible.

Show Compassion – and Be a Lifeline to Others

In addition to focusing on your own self-care this Mental Health Awareness Month, consider checking in on loved ones.

  • Parents/Kids: If you are a parent or caregiver, talk to your kids about their mental health. Getting help during the early stages of mental illness, or at the first signs of mild behavioral health symptoms, can help those symptoms from developing into more serious conditions.
  • Older Adults: If you know an older adult who may be experiencing bereavement, illness, or isolation, watch for clues and ask how they are doing during visits. CDC data shows that suicide rates are on the rise, especially among adults ages 65 and older – so it’s critical to recognize the warning signs so we can offer help.
  • New Mothers: If you know someone who is pregnant or recently gave birth, check to see how they’re feeling. About 1 in 8 women report symptoms of postpartum depression in the year after giving birth – so it’s quite common and nobody should feel embarrassed or hesitant to reach out for help. But if left untreated, maternal mental health issues can lead to devastating consequences, including pregnancy-related deaths, such as suicides, drug overdoses and other unintentional injuries.

These are just a few examples of how you can serve as a lifeline to others this month and beyond. Simply listening, and providing support, can make a significant – and even lifesaving – difference to someone living with mental illness.

To quote Elmo’s heart-felt follow-up post, “Elmo is glad he asked! Elmo learned that it is important to ask a friend how they are doing.” Consider heeding that advice. By encouraging others to seek or access help, or simply by being there for someone when they need us, we instill hope in ourselves and those around us.

SAMHSA Resources

SAMHSA’s 2024 Mental Health Awareness Month resources, including a digital toolkit, can be found on the Mental Health Awareness Month webpage. To learn how to get support for mental health conditions, visit FindSupport.gov. If you’re looking for treatment services in your community, visit FindTreatment.gov. If you or someone you know is in in crisis, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org for help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Additional SAMHSA Wellness and Recovery Resources