Back To Basics: Practical Mental Health Information
Guest Blog by Colleen Merlo, LMSW, Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness
The pandemic has been a catalyst for increased discussion about mental health, and we need to make sure this trend continues. In the past, when people thought about mental health the topic took a myopic view that focused on illness. While mental illnesses are common, widespread, and can affect anyone (around half of people in the U.S. will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their life), this view left many people overlooking mental health and wellness.
Increasingly, individuals, families, schools, businesses, and government are taking a broader view and recognizing that mental health is an important component of your overall health and well-being, just like your physical health. But mental health conditions, resources, and conversations can still feel complicated and out of reach.
An important first step is to learn common warning signs for mental health conditions or crises and specific factors that can lead to mental health conditions or even crises. Having a widespread understanding of the topic can help you be more informed if you, or someone you know, is experiencing a such a condition or crisis.
Each mental illness is different, though some have overlapping symptoms. There are, however, some warning signs like changes in sleep or eating patterns, experiencing and feeling fatigued, feeling hopeless, fighting more with friends and family, withdrawing, and thinking about or talking about suicide.
There’s often no one single cause for a mental health condition. Instead, there are many possible risk factors that can influence how likely a person is to experience a mental health condition or how serious the symptoms may be. Some risk factors for mental health conditions include: trauma, which can be a one-time event or ongoing; your environment and how it impacts your health and quality of life (also known as social determinants of health like financial stability and health care access); genetics; brain chemistry; and your habits and lifestyle such as a lack of sleep.
Of course, understanding the risk factors for a mental health condition can be more difficult when it’s your own mental health. Take time to ask yourself about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to see if this is part of a pattern that may be caused by a mental health condition. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Have things that used to feel easy started feeling difficult?
- Does the idea of doing daily tasks like making your bed now feel really, really hard?
- Have you lost interest in activities and hobbies you used to enjoy?
- Do you feel irritated, possibly to the point of lashing out at people you care about?
Everyone should have the support needed to thrive. Communities that have been historically and presently oppressed face a deeper mental health burden because of the added impact of trauma, persecution, and harm.
If you are concerned about your mental health, there are several options available. You are not alone – help is out there, and recovery is possible. It may be hard to talk about your concerns, but simply acknowledging to yourself that you’re struggling is a really big step.
Taking a screening at www.mhascreening.org can help you to better understand what you are experiencing and get helpful resources. After that, consider talking to someone you trust about your results, and seek out a professional to find the support you need. A phone call to the Association for Mental Health and Wellness can help link you to support, services, workshops, and trainings. Call MHAW at 631-471-7242 ext. 2 or visit www.mhaw.org.
While you may not need this information today, knowing the basics about mental health will mean you’re prepared if you ever need it.
Let’s get “Back To Basics” – the theme of this year’s Mental Health Month – and connect with the daily habits we can practice to maintain positive mental health include exercising, getting adequate sleep, learning how to cope with life’s stresses, connecting with other people, and speaking with a mental health professional when you need it.
About the Guest Blogger
Colleen Merlo, a licensed social worker, has served as Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness since November 30, 2020.
She has worked for more than twenty years in Long Island’s not-for-profit sector, focusing on issues of domestic violence, mental health, gender equity, and poverty.
Colleen had previously spent more than six years as executive director of L.I. Against Domestic Violence. Her visionary leadership increased capacity and broadened the agency’s ability to respond to the changing needs of Long Island through innovative programs, such as the first pet-friendly shelter for domestic violence victims in the region.
Before that, she was executive director of the Mental Health Association in Suffolk County where she provided direction to drive the mission and vision. Colleen’s strength in building effective collaborations, her advocacy, and tirelessly efforts to bring public attention to the issues facing Long Island’s most vulnerable, greatly enhanced the effectiveness of local programming.
A past co-chair of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Long Island, she serves on the board of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, the Suffolk County Family Violence Task Force, and the Suffolk County Teen Pregnancy Advisory Board. Colleen was awarded the Top 50 Women in Business in 2019 from Long Island Business News.
Married with two children, Colleen lives in Rocky Point.