Today’s blog offers suggestions for finding hope, experiencing transformation, and recognizing victory in everyday life. Additionally, it serves as an introduction to Mental Health Connect of Missouri. You can sign up to receive this blog in your email at the bottom of the page.
Mental Health Connect of Missouri promotes mental health awareness through education, information, and support. Our vision is to see an end to the stigma of mental illness.
Mental Health: A Closer Look
We have entered a new year. Finally! I’m Caroline Cooper, executive director of Mental Health Connect of Missouri (MHCMO), a not-for-profit organization promoting mental health awareness. I’m excited you are reading this and hope our biweekly blog, Mental Health: A Closer Look, will become a source of information, encouragement, and inspiration for life in this complicated world. Most posts will focus on mental and emotional wellness, including the connection between mental health and faith, but we will also share many aspects of life. Our blog will be published on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of every month. Join the discussion! And, if you’re interested in being a guest blogger, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We’ve encountered many challenges in 2020 and mental health in America has deteriorated. We need to understand what we’re dealing with and how to find solutions. We need empathy and support. Most importantly, we need to know we are not alone. Supporting each other is essential. In addition to this post, I’ve posted the first of a blog series called “Five Tips to Encourage a Depressed Friend.” I hope you will find these tips helpful and invite you to share them with others.
Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. The state of our mental health determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health
Mental Health for All
It is essential to understand that mental health is not equivalent to mental illness. Even with the abundance of information available, we still need to overcome stigma and be comfortable talking about mental health. Why? Because everyone needs to be mindful of their emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.
The following suggestions for achieving mental wellness are based on an approach that was, and is, instrumental in my recovery: (1) find hope, (2) experience transformation, and (3) recognize victory.
The opposite of hope is despair. Despair can lead to deep depression. We find ourselves at the point of giving up and doubting our purpose. Daily tasks become difficult to perform. We lose motivation to take care of our physical needs. Getting out of bed can seem an insurmountable task. It is easier to stay isolated and ignore the world around us.
In addition to despair and depression, we may find ourselves in a state of constant worry. When worry consumes us, it can grow into intense anxiety. Questions fill our thoughts. How can we move on after losing loved ones and friends? Will we ever be able to safely get back to work, go out to eat, or visit friends? What if the Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t work? And on, and on. We become obsessed with worrying about the future.
Hope can lift us from despair and worry. It keeps our eyes looking forward instead of focusing on a past that we cannot change or a future that we cannot predict. I will admit that I have struggled with keeping hope alive in my life during this past year. Hope faded into the background as the pandemic raged and the number of cases increased. But even in this challenging time in human history, we can make an intentional effort to keep a hopeful outlook. We are not fortune tellers and don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We can only control our attitudes and behavior in the here and now. Let’s choose to have hope. I choose to have hope!
Mental Health Education
Through mental health education, we can learn to improve our mental health and encourage loved ones. MHCMO’s educational events include symposiums, workshops, and training events. In April 2018, we held our first event that provided an overall look at mental health. Guest speakers broadened our understanding and a well-received Q&A session gave attendees an opportunity to address personal concerns. We are planning to hold another symposium in 2021 on the topic of everyday wellness and resources, specifically designed to help with the ongoing effects of the pandemic. More information about our 2021 events will be on our website (www.mhcmo.org) and in our monthly eNewsletter (sign up in the right margin on our website or send me an email at email@example.com).
We can find hope for each day because of our newfound knowledge and understanding and as a result, our stress diminishes. Hope is the first step in the healing process because, without it, we find it difficult to move forward. With hope, we can walk toward our future, even when walking through heartache and pain. As our hope grows, so does our desire for transformation.
I began MHCMO many years after going through an intense time of depression. Throughout the journey, I experienced the joy of healing, the heartache of setbacks, and the relief of getting back on the right path. I was surprised at how much transformation took place in my life during that time. Bringing my experience to MHCMO is my greatest strength in leading this nonprofit. I became a certified peer specialist to increase my ability to serve others. I continue to receive treatment for bipolar II. Transformation is a process that continues through life.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of forming relationships with mental health professionals. It is a blessing to have them on our side. Many years ago, therapists introduced me to tools that helped transform me into an emotionally stable individual. Although, at times, I still work hard to stay in control of my emotions. Therapeutic methods included EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is especially beneficial for overcoming trauma. I learned Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tools for retraining my thought process and used Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) emphasizing emotional regulation. While I am not in regular therapy today, I continue to use these tools and know the importance of seeing a therapist when needed. I take a mood stabilizer and a sleeping pill to counter the physiological causes of bipolar. These are essential for my mental health.
Working through mental health issues is a journey winding through deep, dark valleys to inspiring mountaintops. It is filled with ups and downs. Every step shapes who we are and transforms our lives. As we go through a time of transformation, our eyes open to the victories in life, no matter how big or small.
Getting the help you need
Getting help is not a sign of weakness or something to be embarrassed about. I believe it is an act of strength and courage to reveal our emotional struggles to loved ones and seek out professionals who can help. MHCMO wants to support you in your transformation. We consult with mental health professionals as needed. Our board of directors includes two peer specialists and a social worker.
If you are experiencing mood swings, lack of sleep or too much sleeping, loss of enjoyment in previously enjoyable activities, or other symptoms that are impacting your everyday life, I implore you to find a good therapist and psychiatrist who can work with you to work toward mental wellness.
If you have not started, or are just beginning, the journey to mental wellness, you may think victory is far off. I want to encourage you that every day is a victory and it is important to recognize your success, no matter how small it may seem. We are motivated to continue the work of getting better when we recognize our progress. However, keep in mind that we are striving for progress, not perfection!
We are victorious when we get out of bed, remember to take our medication, and make it to a doctor’s appointment. We can celebrate when we respond to an emotional situation proactively instead of reacting in an unhealthy manner. As we continue to heal, we are better able to make healthy decisions and keep commitments. We find victory in every obstacle we overcome. We walk more confidently as we realize we can persevere. With each victory, our hope builds for the future.
Mental Health Connect of Missouri
I am proud to say that MHCMO is a peer-led nonprofit. What does that mean? I am a mental health consumer. In other words, as I shared before, I live with a mental illness and make use of available treatment resources. And I have overcome! Having a mental illness does not mean life will be difficult forever. With the right treatment, most people diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or other forms of mental illness can live full, productive lives filled with purpose. Many people don’t even realize I have this condition. In fact, when sharing about my mental health journey, I have been told on more than one occasion that I “don’t look like someone with a mental illness”!
MHCMO was formed in 2018, but 2021 will be a time of revitalization after we canceled all our events last year. Maybe you had a similar experience with unexpected changes in 2020. Special events were postponed. Family get-togethers were canceled. Schools learned new methods of teaching. And, health care professionals demonstrated courage and commitment rarely seen in this world. I think it’s a good bet to say that the year didn’t turn out as anyone expected. But we have hope for the future. Our lives can be transformed by persevering through pain and seeking the help we need. We can recognize victory in everyday life.
For more information about MHCMO, please visit our website: www.mhcmo.org