CNN Heroes: Mental Health Awareness Month
01:47 - Bron:CNN
Editor's note:If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, call or text 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to be connected to a trained counselor or visit Lifelineplace.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year it seems to coincide with a flurry of violent headlines. For many, this constant bad news adds to the stress of everyday life, which can already seem overwhelming.
According toNational Association on Mental IllnessIn the US, one in five adults develops a mental illness, and one in six children ages 6 to 17 develop a mental disorder each year. That's millions of people. By 2021, less than half of adults will receive treatment.
The mental health crisis in the US has a broad impact that affects everyone.
"One of the things we underestimate as a society is how our global mental health affects us as individuals. And we've seen it time and time again as we experience gun violence,” said Michele Neff Hernandez, CNN's 2021 Hero who has helped millions cope with grief and loss through her nonprofit organization.Rising Spirits. “We can see what happens when people don't get the help they need; there could be tragic consequences.”
Neff Hernandez is one of many CNN heroes who have found unique ways to help people with their mental health. Some of them marked Mental Health Awareness Month by sharing tips and insights with CNN's Elizabeth Belanger about what's helping their communities. Below are edited versions of their conversations.
Michele Neff Hernandez: Mental health is just as important as physical health
ForCousin Hernandez, whose organization helps widows connect with each other in a community of support, it is important that everyone knows they are not alone in their struggle. Mental illness is common, but the stigma surrounding it is often a barrier to people seeking the treatment they need.
Michele Neff Hernandez:When our body is not working properly, it is considered normal and even responsible to see a doctor to find out the cause or to alleviate the symptoms. But when we struggle with our mental health for any reason—including grieving a death, experiencing a traumatic event, even dealing with the global and national crises that are part of our daily story—we are so hesitant to seek mental health support. The pervasive stigmatizing narrative that implies that seeking mental health support shows weakness or that mental illness or a breakdown in our mental health for whatever reason is something to be ashamed of has a significant negative impact on our society, especially our young people.
Michele Neff Hernandez, held by CNN
We need to shape good mental health care by learning about mental health with the same vigor that we learn about physical health. Imagine if meditation is as popular as weight loss. Or if taking a mood stabilizer is viewed the same way as taking a blood pressure medication. Normalizing mental health care and seeking help is a gift we can give ourselves and the next generation. We all need mental health care many times in our lives; what a gift it would be if access to that help were considered part of normal life.
We see this all the time in sadness: nobody wants people to be sad. We try to fix instead of listening. We pressure grieving people to "get over it" to make others more comfortable. We define success after a traumatic event as "getting back to normal", even if getting back to normal is impossible. The truth is that we are always changed by the challenges we overcome, and integrating what we have learned about ourselves later is one of the most important elements in building resilience. When we stigmatize mental health care, we create an environment that leaves the people who need help the most alone.
Annette March-Grier: Make self-care a priority
Annette March-Grieris a 2014 CNN hero and founderRoberta's house, a funeral home in Baltimore, Maryland. Their programs reach more than 4,000 people of all ages each year. In 2021, the organization moved to a new state-of-the-art center that houses in-person support groups and serves those experiencing loss of all types.
March-Grier emphasizes the importance of putting yourself first to improve mental well-being.
CNN held Annette March-Grier
Annette March-Grier:Everyone is looking for some kind of balance, but few find it. Your state of mind is where it all begins. Make self-care a priority for your mental well-being. "Taking care of yourself is not selfish." The truth is that if you don't take care of yourself, you have nothing to give to others. This also applies to healthy relationships that can be threatened by stress, burnout and lack of self-care. Your physical health is also related to your mental health. Negative thoughts and their suppression can cause illness, and this eventually leads to illness.
Self-care means taking time for yourself, making a gratitude list, keeping a journal, dancing, laughing, breathing deeply, smelling the fresh air, being aware of your surroundings, being in the moment, enjoying silence when you can, finding time for yourself, playing with your pet, exercising, thinking about the past, dreaming about the future, eating healthy, helping someone in need. All these self-care activities increase endorphins in the body and allow for relaxation and balance.
Scott Strode: Combine community and fitness
Sports hit 2012. CNN HeroScott Strodeovercome your addiction to drugs and alcohol. He foundedPhoenixin 2007 to provide free sports activities and a sober community of support to others struggling with addiction. Today, the organization is active in more than 200 communities across the country with almost 200,000 members.
Strode's work focuses on the intersection of exercise and personal connection to benefit mental health.
Scott Strode owned by CNN
Scott Strode:Social connection is a powerful tool for creating positive mental health. At The Phoenix, we see the profound impact of belonging and social connection on the self-esteem and overall well-being of our members every day. Spending just a few minutes a day in the presence of others can be inherently powerful, and luckily now it's easier than ever to make those essential connections.
Whether it's getting together for an activity or simply talking about the challenges we face, social connection can help us all overcome mental health issues.
Exercise can also be a powerful tool for improving mental health. We encourage you to go for a 15- to 30-minute walk or run, and consider inviting a friend to join you. Sharing these physical activities with supportive peers can create vulnerability to begin sharing information about what else you are experiencing.
Mary Cortani: 'Don't judge what you can't see'
Mary Cortani owned by CNN
Service dogs are often a helpful resource for military members returning from deployment suffering from conditions such as PTSD, depression and anxiety. 2012 CNN Herovan Mary Cortaninon-profitOperation Legs of Freedom, has helped nearly 600 veterans, first responders and others train their own service dogs.
Cortani emphasizes that not all wounds are visible and that silence is not a cure for mental illness.
Maria Cortani:If the world has taught me anything, it has taught me to remember to be kind and not to judge what you cannot see. Pain is invisible. With all the craziness that happens every day, breathe a sigh of relief. It's okay to feel down, overwhelmed, overwhelmed, sad, frustrated. Don't try to hold it back. Ask for help, talk to your family, friends, pastor, priest - talk to someone. And for those who are listening, really hearing, pay attention, because sometimes silence speaks louder than words. There is no shame in asking for help. It takes courage, and we all have it in us.
We all need to understand that mental health needs to be talked about, not swept under the rug. We need open, honest conversations; we have a mental health crisis in this country that will only get worse as we become more divided. Fear only contributes to it. Mental health doesn't just affect veterans and first responders; it can affect anyone. Trauma is trauma, and enough repeated exposure changes the brain. There is hope and there may be healing, but we must all work together to help those who need our help.
We need to break the silence about mental health and model healthy behaviors so we can help with support and help find resources. We are not alone, and neither are those who suffer from psychological problems.