In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, VETgirl’s Chief Happiness Officer, Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, clinical veterinary social worker, discusses the importance mental health awareness and what you need to know about mental health in veterinary medicine.
Mental Health Awareness: What You Need to Know
Since 1949, the month of May has been used to raise awareness about mental illness, the realities of living with mental health conditions, and the many strategies that can be used to both reduce stigma and enhance mental health and wellbeing. Mental Health Awareness Month is also an opportunity to shine a light on our own wellbeing by intentionally devoting time and energy to the behaviors that build and protect our mental health.
Mental health is a facet of overall health that encompasses emotional, social, and psychological wellbeing and influences how we think, feel, and behave. The factors that negatively impact mental health are present for all of us to some extent or another – because struggle is just part of the human condition, am I right? – and most of us will have to work through a mental health condition at some point in our lifetime. According to Mental Health America, almost half of the American population will experience a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in time, and nearly 1 in 5 Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition in 2022. Moreover, 50 million American adults are living with mental illness at this very moment…. and we’re not alone. Global rates of anxiety and depression have increased by 25% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with youth and women being most heavily impacted.
The takeaway? Mental health isn’t the absence of illness or stress. In fact, mental health exists on the spectrum and is influenced by a multitude of factors. To be healthy human beings, then, we must attend to our mental health in the same ways we attend to our physical health. And during Mental Health Awareness Month, we have an opportunity to self-evaluate, explore resources, and intentionally integrate mental health into our workplace conversations.
Where to begin?
• Pause and self-assess. To get a “check up from the neck up,” go to Mental Health America’s website, where you can browse a number of free, confidential, and evidence-based assessment tools. These tools provide a snapshot to inform both your self-care and your conversations with care providers (including your PCP and/or a mental health provider). For more information, see https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools/.
• Intentionally leverage self-care. Evaluate what gives and depletes energy in your life, where you might need extra support, and how you might bolster your wellbeing. Take active steps to engage in behaviors that bring you moments of calm, balance, and joy.
• Know your resources. Whether local or national in scope, knowing the resources that exist to support mental health is an important first step to engaging in help-seeking behaviors. And when efforts at self-care don’t seem to be cutting it, consider that professional support may be both appropriate and well-timed. For a listing of helplines and guidance on how to find the best mental health professional for you, see https://screening.mhanational.org/get-help/. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), primary care providers, and local VMAs are also great places to begin for resources and referrals. Help is available and it is effective!
• Model, and make space for, honest conversations about mental health. Early identification and intervention are critical for restoring mental health, and stigma-busting requires that we bravely and honestly talk about mental health – both within and outside the workplace. Modeling good self-care and leaning in to conversations with colleagues help to build a culture of health and wellbeing in our hospitals and on our teams.
Taking good care of ourselves and the amazing profession of which we are part requires recognizing that mental health is something that touches all of us. Taking the pulse on our own wellbeing, engaging in high-yield self-care, getting support and treatment when we need it, and making space (+ giving grace) for mental health conversations in the workplace are not only great ways to mark Mental Health Awareness Month – they are value-based behaviors we can follow all year long.