Department of Mental Health Recognizes May as Mental Health Month
The Mississippi Department of Mental Health (DMH) is recognizing the month of May as National Mental Health Month, a time to reinforce and share its mission of supporting a better tomorrow by making a difference in the lives of all Mississippians with behavioral health or substance use disorders.
This recognition began 67 years ago by Mental Health America, a nonprofit dedicated to the needs of those living with mental illness, to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone. This year’s theme, “Life with a Mental Illness,” seeks to share what life is like for those living with a mental illness – the struggles faced by everyday people, but coupled with an illness that is often misunderstood rarely talked about openly.
“Mental illnesses are much more common than many people realize,” said Diana Mikula, Executive Director of the Department of Mental Health. “About one in five adults experiences mental health issues, and about one in 10 young people experience major mental health issues as well. Mental health issues affect people of all ages, races and backgrounds.
“Despite that, mental illness is still something many people don’t talk about. We want to encourage people to talk about their health, get help if it is needed, and to be free from judgement whatever their health condition may be.”
The call to action for people to share how their illnesses affect them is a hope that others will look past the illness, see the person there, and know mental illness is not only common, but treatable and that help is available. For others living with a mental illness themselves, knowing that help is available and that recovery is possible can make a world of difference.
Sandra Caron is a Certified Peer Support Specialist at Central Mississippi Residential Center (CMRC) in Newton. Her job is to support the residents at through her own unique perspective – that of someone who has lived with and is in recovery from a mental illness.
She knows what many of them are experiencing, having lived through it herself. Once she received her diagnosis, her life changed completely.
She wasn’t able to work, had severe financial problems, and her friends and family did not understand what she was going through. She said she lost her own self-worth and her own identity.
Her recovery began the day she saw a new doctor who actually asked her what she wanted to get out of her therapy.
“I was stunned, and had no answer,” Caron said. “No one had ever asked me what I wanted, or what goals I wanted to achieve.”
Her new doctor encouraged her to take part in her own treatment and helped her to learn coping skills and accountability. She now has her own home, a wonderful support network, and she sets and reaches her own goals.
“Life is no longer about the illness I have. It’s one of knowing I am in recovery,” Caron said. “Moving into recovery has been life changing. Peer support has provided meaning and purpose to my life. I continue to encourage my peers to realize recovery is possible.”
Others who have not lived with a mental illness themselves are also working to offer the same encouragement and positivity to their friends and peers. One such person is Michaela Moore, a Miss Mississippi contestant who currently holds the title of Miss Riverland 2016. For the past two years, her platform has been “Shining a Light on Life,” and focuses on suicide prevention and awareness.
It began when she was in high school and was a member of a performing arts group with the goal of encouraging the prevention of substance use, peer pressure and bullying.
“I began to notice through this that there was one area no one ever really spoke about: depression,” she said. “I started to do research, and I was shocked to realize how high the statistics are for teen suicide and those affected by depression.”
She realized not only that many of her friends were facing a battle, but that many also believed they were facing it alone. She began working to get students involved in activities they enjoyed, things that made them happy and took their minds off of their temporary problems. She began working on her platform because, as she saw it, depression and suicide were elephants in the room.
“Many are afraid to talk about depression or its effects. I worked off of the idea that change can begin with one person, and I encourage high school student that I speak with to take that mindset as well,” Moore said.
Throughout the month, people living with mental illnesses will be embracing the “Life with a Mental Illness” theme and sharing their personal stories on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #mentalillnessfeelslike. It is a way to speak up, to share their points of view with others and to help others figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness.
It is important to know that mental illnesses are common, treatable and help is available. Here in Mississippi, the Department of Mental Health operates a Help Line that is available 24 hours a day at 1-877-210-8513. It is important to reach out for help, and also to speak out and share stories of recovery and hope.
Moore said she has constantly been amazed and moved by the responses she has received since she began speaking out, including those from her close friends. She is also glad to be able to say she knows others who have struggled are now staying healthy and doing very well in life.
“These are the kinds of stories I want people to know – there is so much to look forward to and so much that each of us has yet to experience,” she said.