ARTICLE

Don't neglect mental health in stressful times

Various maps of the state of Iowa hang on the wall above Leona Childs, crisis counselor, as she talks with someone on th
Various maps of the state of Iowa hang on the wall above Leona Childs, crisis counselor, as she talks with someone on the crisis hotline at the Foundation 2 Crisis Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

We are currently sitting in the midst of a global pandemic, a time when individuals and families are dealing with an extreme level of uncertainty about nearly every aspect of life.

Uncertainty tends to breed anxiety, which can lead to depression, hopelessness and even suicidal thoughts. Individuals who were already struggling with mental health may find themselves in a situation where those thoughts become particularly pronounced. Many others may be experiencing these thoughts and feelings for the first time. It is not uncommon for people to try to maintain a strong exterior while silently suffering on the inside. This happens because the stigma behind mental health remains stronger than a person’s ability to reach out for help. We have been encouraged to believe that happiness is always a choice and that true strength lies in constantly maintaining a positive attitude.

Unfortunately, these misconceptions perpetuate the belief that individuals struggling with mental health are somehow at fault for their feelings and experiences. It creates the belief that if they could “just be stronger, happier, wealthier, more organized, more motivated or more socially connected,” that everything would improve. While there is no doubt that nutrition, exercise and sleep are critically important for mental health, they don’t solve every problem.

I encourage you to regularly check in with your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. While it can be hard to know how to discuss these issues, there are simple approaches to assist you. Don’t be afraid to ask those in your life if they are OK, and let them know it is acceptable for them to say “I am not OK.” Through these conversations, be sure to give them space to communicate they are struggling without trying to “fix it” for them. Validating the feelings of others and showing empathy are simple, yet powerful, ways to show support when someone is struggling.

Oftentimes, individuals feel they don’t have “the right” to feel depressed or hopeless because they perceive the suffering of others to be worse than their own experience. We may feel selfish or insensitive if we are unable to show gratitude for the good things in our life. While there may always be someone who “has it worse” than you, there is nothing beneficial about comparing your personal distress to that of your neighbor. If you don’t feel well, you deserve to seek support without guilt or shame.

Please know that there are resources available to you and your loved ones during this time when routines have been disrupted, and isolation is occurring more regularly. You can call the Foundation 2 Crisis Line at 319-362-2174, or Your Life Iowa at 1-855-581-8111, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are free and confidential. These resources exist to ensure that no one has to struggle alone.

Sarah Nelson is chief operating officer at Foundation 2 Crisis Services in Cedar Rapids.

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