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It’s okay, not to be okay - May is Mental Health Awareness Month

By Amy Sparks

Photo of "Universe of Service" collage in the 4-H Building at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair
       In 2023, Minnesota State Fair 4-H Building visitors
       were asked to share the needs in the world they care
       most about and place them on a Universe of Service.
       Many fair-goers identified mental health care as
       a need. Photo by Amy Sparks.
"How is everyone?" A simple question, yet it holds profound power in igniting discussions about mental well-being. Earlier this year, Elmo from Sesame Street posed this question on social media, triggering an outpouring of responses. From tales of relationship strains to battles with financial difficulties, fatigue, isolation, and disconnection, individuals shared their innermost feelings. Elmo's post garnered millions of views, reposts, likes, and comments, underscoring a reality we cannot overlook: many among us are grappling with challenges. And that's alright. What's crucial is acknowledging this reality and ensuring everyone knows assistance is within reach.

May isn't just about nature's renewal with blooming flowers and warm sunlight; it's also a time of heightened awareness for mental health. It's a period for reflection, remembrance, and outreach, as we honor those lost to the struggles of mental illness. As I write this, names like Julie, Jonathan, Anna surface—individuals whose absence weighs heavily. Surely, many of you, too, have felt the impact of such losses.

Mental health conditions do not discriminate; they affect individuals irrespective of gender, age, race, ethnicity, or income level. Recent data underscores the gravity of the mental health crisis we confront as a state, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds, from youngsters to seniors. 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6–17 experience a mental health disorder each year.

But there's a silver lining: mental health conditions are manageable. Numerous athletes, entertainers, and public figures have bravely shared their journeys, demonstrating that fulfilling lives are attainable despite mental illness. Serious conditions like bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia need not define one's existence. Much like managing diabetes or any other medical ailment, with timely and consistent treatment, individuals with severe mental health conditions can flourish.

Language is powerful; let's employ person-first language to humanize individuals living with mental illness, fostering inclusivity and respect in our interactions. Instead of saying, "John is schizophrenic…or bipolar," say "John is a person who has schizophrenia…or who has bipolar disorder." Instead of describing someone as "suffering from a mental illness," say "experiencing or living with a mental illness."

The more we engage in open dialogues about mental health, the more normalized these conversations become, empowering individuals to seek the support they require. Just as we freely exchange advice on physical health maintenance, let's dedicate this month to discussing mental health strategies. Let's emphasize the message that it's okay, not to feel okay.

Mental Health Action Day on May 16 provides an avenue to progress from awareness to action. Whether it involves adopting positive mental health practices, expressing gratitude, volunteering, performing random acts of kindness, practicing mindfulness, or seeking assistance, every endeavor counts.

Together with youth, let’s work to dismantle barriers, dispel stigmas, and pave the way for brighter, healthier futures. As Elmo sagely expressed in a heartfelt follow-up post, "Elmo is glad he asked! Elmo learned that it is important to ask a friend how they are doing."

So, how are you doing?

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis, please call the 988 Lifeline. The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.

-- Amy Sparks, Extension educator

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

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  1. Thank you for bringing awareness to such an important topic, Amy! And I'm doing well, thank you for asking!

    1. I'm so glad to read this Becca! And, right back at you for continuing to highlight the importance of mental health in Swift County, Minnesota, and beyond! I have lots to learn from and alongside of you. :)

  2. This blog post wonderfully captures the significance of discussing mental well-being and the power of a simple question like "How is everyone?" Elmo's initiative to spark these conversations is a testament to the importance of acknowledging our shared struggles. As we reflect on Mental Health Awareness Month, it's crucial to remember that mental health conditions can affect anyone, regardless of background.


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