By: Holly Brochmann
Mental health is a topic I’m always eager to discuss, so when my colleagues at HBI offered me May’s blog post in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I jumped at the chance to share my thoughts.
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to mental health. The good news is that awareness of its importance has increased exponentially, and a willingness to talk about it and seek treatment has subsequently increased. The bad news is that its severity and prevalence has likewise skyrocketed, resulting in some pretty horrific statistics in the areas of suicide and gun violence, for example.
Like most large-scale issues, there’s no quick fix and the solution is a complex, multi-faceted one. For instance, we need to increase (significantly) the number of bilingual mental health providers in this country to correspond with the rapid growth of the Hispanic population. A shoutout to HBI client Ser Familia, who’s dedicated to this very issue. We also need to expand awareness and access to resources among low-income populations. And, I think our country needs to launch a campaign specifically targeting boys and men – a campaign that negates the age-old notion that men are supposed to be “tough” and that sensitivity or displays of emotion are considered weak. As a result, many men avoid opening up about their feelings and are resistant to seeking help. I recently lost a male friend to depression so this one in particular has been resonating with me.
However, I believe the best solution is a long term one that will play out for future generations. It’s fairly simple, really. START EARLY. Like most things, such as a new language or a sport, the earlier in life you begin to learn, the better. The brain is like a muscle in that it needs conditioning and practice. Healthy habits that are developed during childhood are much more likely to transition into adulthood and continue throughout life, and it’s no different with mental health. Children should be taught to nurture their mental health, even beginning as young as three or four. They can learn to identify difficult feelings, normalize them, and learn coping skills and techniques to carry them through the rough patches. Luckily, this effort is already underway as many educators are placing emphasis on social emotional learning programs in the schools, and parents and caregivers now have access to numerous children’s books and influencers on social media who offer advice on the topic.
The goal here is not to eradicate anxiety, depression or other forms of mental illness – that would be ideal, but unrealistic (if not impossible). The goal, instead, is to recognize mental health as a vital component of wellbeing, remove the stigma and shame surrounding mental health struggles, and encourage a willingness to embrace coping options, whether it be deep breathing, meditation, opening up to a trusted friend, therapy, and when necessary, medication. If we can teach kids to care about and how to care for their mental health, they’ll grow into teens and adults already equipped with the tools that can safely and effectively take them through emotionally turbulent times. Then those adults will in turn carry on the tradition with the next generation of children and so forth. Hopefully, the ultimate result is a mentally healthier, more stable, and overall HAPPIER society.
Note from HBI: In addition to serving as our Senior Account Director, Holly is the author of A Feel Better Book for Little Kids children’s series that helps little kids manage their big feelings. The books are published by the American Psychological Association’s Magination Press, are available in multiple languages, and can be found anywhere books are sold.