This past year presented so many different challenges and obstacles that tested our strength and resiliency. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us as Mississippians to cope with situations we never even imagined, and a lot of us struggled with our mental health as a result. In the face of an unparalleled situation that affected communities all around our country and the entire world, our work lives changed, our personal lives changed, and we all had to learn how to handle those changes.
We began to hear more of an emphasis about how important it was for us to focus on our mental health. When so many of us, and our neighbors and friends, experienced job loss or their homes also became their offices, and many became both the educator and parent for their children, we had to learn how to make time for ourselves. Our mental health, and how we maintained it, was suddenly a part of so many conversations that it probably wouldn’t have been in before, and words such as quarantine, isolation, and social distancing became part of our everyday lingo.
Now, more than ever, we need to change our perceptions surrounding our mental health because common misconceptions often prevent people from seeking help they need. Our mental health is just one part of our overall health and wellness. That’s why during Mental Health Month, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (DMH) encourages Mississippians to think again when it comes to their personal mental health.
The focus on our mental health should not apply just to adults – our children are not immune to mental health problems. Anxiety and depression are among the most diagnosed mental disorders in children, and almost 75 percent of children diagnosed with depression also have anxiety.
Mental health is something everyone should care about, especially knowing that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of Mississippians of all ages. We know that the past year forced many to accept tough situations that they had little to no control over.
If you found that the past year impacted your mental health, you are not alone. In fact, phone calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from Mississippians increased by 40 percent in 2020. However, there are services and resources available that can support the well-being of individuals and our communities.
Know that working on your mental health and finding tools that help you thrive takes time. Change will not happen overnight. Instead, by focusing on small changes, you can move through the stressors of the past year and develop long-term strategies to support yourself on an ongoing basis.
A great starting point for anyone who is ready to start prioritizing their mental health is to access the Mental Health Month and Think Again campaign information and resources we are sharing through our social media outlets and on our website, www.dmh.ms.gov, throughout May. These tools are designed to help everyone improve their mental health and increase their resiliency. If you are seeking information on services, call the DMH Helpline at 1-877-210-8513 or visit www.mentalhealthms.com. Staff are available to provide help around the clock.
Ultimately, during the month of May, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health wants to remind everyone that mental illnesses are real, and recovery is possible. By developing your own tools to thrive, it is possible to find balance between life’s ups and downs and continue to cope with the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
The past year has been difficult. Things are getting better, but we don’t know when they will be back to what we would have called normal at the beginning of 2020. It’s more important than ever to focus on our health. Let’s remember that our health includes our mental health, get help when we need it, and most importantly, encourage others to do the same.
Wendy Bailey is executive director of the MS Department of Mental Health.