Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month

Written by Adrienne D. Berry, CP

May 2022

Mental health awareness is a very relevant conversation in today’s society. Once thought to be taboo to discuss openly, it is now a factor in daily conversation. One must wonder if the stressors people faced during the pandemic forced it to be pushed to the forefront. During the pandemic, mostly everyone was forced to be at home, sometimes alone for a long period of time. The loneliness can be hard on someone who may already suffer from anxiety, depression, or other issues. The stories on the daily news have been hard to hear over the last two years. But, on the positive side, people are able to speak up and speak out about their own mental health issues, which helps increase awareness, access to treatment, and finding that they are not alone.

May is National Mental Health Awareness month. The month focuses on bringing tools, resources, and education to the general public.[1] The organization Mental Health America created Mental Health Awareness month in 1949 “to provide Americans with tools and resources as part of their outreach program to improve mental health.”

I have noticed that through my own health insurance there are many more options and programs available that include emotional and mental health. There has always been the push for physical fitness, eating healthy, getting enough rest/sleep, and awareness of alcohol/drug abuse, but not as much focus on when to ask for help when someone needs mental assistance. There are now options available from support groups to specialized care to wellness checklists and more. The most important thing is awareness and the opportunity to seek help. Through the media, news outlets, health providers, and everyday people, one is able to more easily identify signs when a friend/loved one may need mental health assistance.  A few signs to be cognizant of include:

  • Impulsive behaviors or being more irritated than usual;
  • Not functioning like their usual selves (e. change in habits of dress, general appearance, eating or sleep habits);
  • Talking about feelings of loneliness or despair;
  • Excessive worry;
  • Trouble concentrating; and
  • Substance abuse.

Having a mental illness should not stigmatize or ostracize anyone from society, in the workplace, or even in their own family unit. Dealing with mental health is just as important as one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health. My family has been dealing with a mental illness for several years now. At times, it has been a struggle because of the lack of understanding.  I do not think people really understand that mental illness is more than just having a bad day. I did not. It is more than just a slump or temporary sad feeling. Being able to recognize the signs and helping someone seek treatment can make the world of difference.  In my experience, once we were able to realize that it was more than a passing phase, we were able to seek out assistance. The first step was asking for help. I understand now that there will be good and bad days. I can play the part of supportive family member and friend.  I can attend support meetings.  I can lend an ear and offer a hug.  The most important thing I have learned is that I need to just be there.  Sometimes, it can be as simple as letting a person know that they are not alone.

Being a paralegal can be a stressful job.  With the mounds of discovery production, requests for production, unending interrogatories, trials, contract agreements, custody agreements, probate issues, and other areas of practice, stress can lead to serious health issues and mental unwellness.  We must learn that in addition to taking care of our bodies, we also need to take care of our minds and promote self-care in any fashion. We must always show compassion and sensitivity to everyone, not just when they seem to be having a bad day. In 2021, the ABA published an article on mental health for paralegals. The author seemed to speak more on the effects of the mental health challenges for attorneys but mentions that it must be just as stressful for support staff.  Some recognition is a good start. The ending statements of the article ring very true, and I end by sharing them with you. “Taking care of our mental health is an important part of maintaining our careers and having happy, healthy, productive lives.  Emotional and psychological well-being must be a priority for all legal professionals, including paralegals.”[2]