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Let’s talk about how we feel

For decades, mental health has been a taboo topic. We can talk about a family member’s cancer, for example, but not about the depression that keeps a loved one from going to work or the anxiety that makes it difficult for that person to leave the house. Americans with mental health issues are not alone. In any given year, approximately 1 in 5 Americans face mental health problems.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and with the public health crisis of COVID-19, there is no time like now to discuss the stigma associated with mental health. Resulting from this crisis is a surge in mental health issues, with approximately half of American adults reporting the pandemic has affected their mental health, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

While the obvious negatives of the COVID-19 pandemic are overwhelming, there are some potential ‘upsides’, such as innovating new ways to conduct business; spending more time with loved ones; or rediscovering simple joys. Beacon Health Options feels that the pandemic opens the door for more conversation, more acknowledgement and more acceptance of mental health issues. Now is the time. Mental health is the opportunity.

Start the conversation with these tips

It all starts with us. We can talk about mental health challenges — whether your own or those of a loved one. By talking about it, you make what turns out to be a common human experience part of everyday conversation. Below are some suggestions on how you can start and keep the conversation going, especially as we go through these difficult times.

1. Ask how people are doing — and mean it. When you ask people how they’re doing with the “new normal”, don’t settle for the reflexive answer: “Fine” or “OK”. Ask follow-up questions, such as “How do you like working from home?” or “Are you having trouble balancing work and home-schooling?” Ask questions that require more than one-word answers. Once you start asking specific questions, you might discover they aren’t “fine”, and you can start to have a meaningful back-and-forth. 

2. Share your own mental health challenges. Once you open up about your own state of mind, people will be more willing to share their own. Talking about those challenges and sharing them makes them more normal.

3. Talk openly with your kids. Have a regular check-in with your kids to see how they’re doing. Make it acceptable dinner table conversation, for example, so that they sense your questions about their concern are the norm and not the exception.

4. Be careful how you use your words. There are many words, i.e., crazy, nuts, wacko etc., that many of us use but without intending to be insensitive; such terms have become part of our culture. However, they are insensitive and demeaning, and we should refrain from using them. Language does matter, and we have the power to change the conversation by choosing our words carefully.

5. Learn the facts and share what you’ve learned. Whether it’s from this blog or other news media, let your loved ones know what you’ve learned about how seriously this pandemic is affecting the mental health of nearly half of Americans. This is for real, and it isn’t “in their heads”. In short, they’re not alone.

6. If you’re a manager at work, grant mental health days. We get sick days for the flu, a stomach bug, or these days, COVID-19, so why shouldn’t we get sick days for not feeling mentally well? The pandemic is an overwhelming situation, and we’re allowed to have days when we need some time to regroup.

However you start the conversation about mental health, Beacon Health Options encourages you to start it today — not tomorrow, not next week, but today.

Share in the comment box how you started a conversation about mental health with a friend, family member or coworker.

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