Mental Health Awareness Month: sparking conversations, breaking stigmas, and seeking help

May 19, 2023 /

May is mental health awareness month and to Yanin Ayon this month is about sparking conversations and allowing people to ask questions and be able to talk about mental health without fear of judgment. 

It is also about destigmatizing mental health wellness and raising awareness about what people go through, and that is totally okay to talk about what people are going through.

I have read a few articles that explain this beautifully: ‘Mental Health Awareness Month helps those with a condition overcome the stigma and get access to treatment. It helps their friends, family, and loved ones better understand their condition and connect with support networks. It helps the providers who treat those with a condition receive funding for their research and treatment so they can better care for all our mental health. In short, we can all benefit from Mental Health Awareness Month’ (Lifespan, 2022),” Ayon stated.

Ayon said there also seem to be more students who are struggling with their self-esteem as a result of spending more time isolated due to quarantining, spending more time on social media and less time interacting with their peers, and also wearing masks. 

She continued with another quote: “‘Raising awareness reduces the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and seeking treatment. Without treatment, mental health disorders can reach a crisis point. As the World Health Organization states, there is no health without mental health’ (DHCS 1:17).”

“There are a lot of signs that can tell us someone is struggling with their mental health, so I think the most important thing to keep in mind is what someone’s norm is. If someone usually sleeps a lot and all of a sudden they are not sleeping, or vice versa, if there are changes in eating habits or loss of interest in things they enjoy doing, these can all be signs,” said Ayon. “Any one of these things alone may not seem like a big deal, but if there is more than one sign present, and the person is not acting like themselves, we may need to stop and ask how they are feeling.”

The way to help someone who is struggling with this varies depending on what the student is struggling with. Ayon said there are a lot of different interventions for anxiety, anger, self-esteem, etc. Some can be breathing exercises, grounding techniques, or journaling. It also depends on what the student likes because not everything will work for every student.

“I’ll give you an example, I have a student that really turns to music as a coping skill. My only concern is that sometimes we have the tendency to listen to sad music when we are already feeling sad, so I had him pick five songs that put him in a good mood,” said Ayon. “That makes him happy and smile, and maybe even want to dance. This way if he is feeling down, he already has a playlist that could help put him in a better mood.”

Ayon has created a form for either teachers or students to fill out themselves if they want to self-refer. These forms are created so that everyone can reach her about any concerns. It also allows her to get more information about the student before she meets with them and it allows the person who is referring to be discreet. 

Most of the time, Ayon has students just come and knock on her door and ask if they can talk, or they will email her themselves since she does provide them with her contact info. This is just another way of making herself accessible to her students and staff.

“Mental health professionals have this saying, ‘Meet the client where they are at’. This is basically the idea that we cannot force anyone to open up or make changes if they are not ready. If a student is hesitant to talk to me I just give them time,” said Ayon. “We play a game and talk about what they like and get to know each other and then before they know it they feel comfortable enough with me to share.”

When Ayon first meets with a new student, she talks with them about her role as a social worker, confidentiality, and mandated reporting. She gives them examples of when she would need to break confidentiality, and if the time ever comes, she always lets them know beforehand, and talks about what they can expect. 

“I always remind them that this is a safe space and they never have to apologize for feeling the way they do. I also always remind them they do not have to share anything they do not want to, I think it really reinforces the idea of this being a safe space and I am consistent and always honest with them,” said Ayon.

There is a lot of testing happening around this time of year and a lot of students get anxious or become overwhelmed, so a piece of advice she always tells the students is to try their best.

“It does not matter what we are referring to, all we can ask is that they try their best. I just tell them that their test scores do not define who they are, and all we expect them to do is try their best,” said Ayon.

Ayon uplifts Mental Health Awareness Month and educates others on this matter by doing activities and events with students and families. Allowing people the opportunity to learn while getting a prize or spending time with their families are added bonus. 

Over the summer, there are so many small things that parents can do that will help with their children’s mental health, like spending time together. 

“Parents can engage in good coping skills with their kids such as painting, drawing, putting together a puzzle, going for a walk, etc. Anything that will allow us to spend time with our child while also doing something that is good for their body and/or brain will also help with their mental health,” said Ayon. “There are also mental health agencies that our students can be connected to during the summer if they are in need of services while school is not in session.”

Ayon wants people to know that it is okay to seek help and that you are never alone.

“If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide do not be afraid to seek help! Help is available! Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988,” said Ayon.

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