Since 1949, the month of May has been designated to Mental Health Awareness. In the midst of the recent school shooting in Uvalde, the ongoing war in Ukraine and the ever-present pandemic, it has become increasingly important to check in on our mental health. As the month comes to an end, we reached out to mental health professions for advice on how our readers can continue to prioritize mental health.
Nitzia Logothetis — Founder and Executive Director of the Seleni Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to improving individuals’ mental health during family-building years — spoke to LATINA over the phone. Logothetis explained how COVID-19 put everyone in a collective state of trauma that we are unlikely to escape until the pandemic is truly over.
“I think [mental health] is going to get a little bit worse before it can get better,” said Logothetis. The uncertainty that the pandemic brought about has caused an enormous disruption in general mental health, and Logothetis believes improvement in the public’s mental health won’t fully happen until much of the uncertainty is truly behind us. Until then, she says that it is important for people to “be compassionate with themselves in their process and in their journey.”
Adriana Alejandre, founder of Latinx Therapy — an organization dedicated to destigmatizing mental health in the Latinx community — agrees. On a Zoom interview with LATINA, she shared how the pandemic exacerbated a “mental health crisis that already existed.”
Alejandre thinks that having a month to emphasize, celebrate and bring awareness to mental health is crucial for people to get the resources and information they need. She also thinks it is useful to view every May as a marker to look back on one’s mental health and coping mechanisms, and to see what is working and what is not. Without a designated month to reflect on mental health, we may never really sit down to see if what we’re doing is right for us or if we need to change it.
Mental Health Awareness month can also serve to make us more conscious about how other people are doing. “It’s a good practice to sort of look around and think about your friends and loved ones, and think about who might need a little more support right now. And try to offer more support,” said Logothetis.
Still, Logothetis wishes “we could have mental health month every month… Because these issues are relevant the entire year round, not just in May.”
Both Logothetis and Alejandre are concerned about the stigma that continues to surround mental health in many communities — but especially the Latinx community. Alejandre explained that some families believe prayer and religion should be a good enough coping mechanism. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report, only 34 percent of Latino adults with mental illness are provided treatment each year.
As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, here are some pieces of advice that these two mental health professionals believe are important to keep in mind beyond the month of May.
Logothetis recommends that people manage their expectations and have a steady routine. “Keep your expectations in line with reality,” she said. People should not expect to be where they thought they would be before the pandemic began. They should be kind to themselves and not put too much pressure on what they — or society —think they should be doing. Instead, people can make sure they eat, sleep, exercise and do things they enjoy.
Alejandre also thinks it is vital to make time to do the things that bring you joy. Even though there are dreadful things going on around us, Alejandre suggests that you “find joy in your day-to-day.”
A great way to start figuring out how to manage your expectations, how to distribute your time and how to find happiness despite being surrounded by fear is to go to therapy. “Therapy works,” said Logothetis, “It is an incredible gift you can give to yourself.”
Alejandre understands that many people may not know where to begin when it comes to finding a therapist, but she has many useful tips.
For people planning to use health insurance to pay for therapy, Alejandre suggests that they call their provider and ask for a list of professionals. Often these include culture and language filters that people can use to find a therapist that best fits their needs. When it comes to paying out of pocket, Alejandre’s organization Latinx Therapy provides a directory of therapists around the country. These therapists offer a free first consultation so that patients can decide whether or not they connect with their therapist. Even if you cannot afford therapy, many nonprofits provide free guidance and support. A quick google search of mental health nonprofits in your area can yield life-changing results.
“We often think of mental health as ‘Oh, I have to go to an Ashram and lock myself in for 10 days and meditate quietly so that I can recover from the stress.’ I don’t think that’s realistic,” says Logothetis. Mental health is different for everyone. From going for a walk, to talking to a friend, to seeing a therapist, different practices help different people. But, everyone needs to focus on their mental health as much as they focus on their physical health. Even though the month designated to Mental Health Awareness is over, our consciousness and efforts are not.