This May, as we launch into summer, we invite you to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month with all of us at the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Center (CCERC). Rarely is mental health framed as cause to celebrate. However, with our focus on wellness, we see plenty to sing about. Mental health means practicing self-love and acceptance, healthy boundaries and secure relationships, clear communication, and personal growth, among other wonderful things. As the structure of the school year falls away, summer is a time to take special care of ourselves and our emotional needs.
In many homes and in popular culture, “mental health” often has negative connotations and is treated as a taboo topic to be avoided. When we hear the phrase “physical health,” there is not the same kind of stigma. Instead, we may imagine working out, strength-building, eating fruits and vegetables, or getting plenty of sleep. We can probably bring to mind role models who help us aspire to greater physical health and who work towards personal excellence in how they treat their bodies: athletes such as Serena Williams, talented Olympians Adam Rippon or Simone Biles, or the body positivity advocate, yoga star and Durham native, Jessamyn Stanley. Our society is more open and positive about physical health than we are about mental health, which is often talked about as an indication of disease, not about the presence of wellness.
What if we looked to people in society who are beacons of self-care and self-love? What if we found people who inspire for the way they protect their spirits, speak openly about struggles, and display vulnerability as they move towards growth? Some mental health role models could include rapper Logic, who overcame childhood trauma, debilitating anxiety, depression, and now heals others through music, or Beyoncé, who channeled anger and pain in her relationship into powerful and authentic creative expression. Role models need not only include celebrities, but lesser knowns like YouTuber, Jessica McCabe, who developed a video series about ADHD, Gabby Frost, founder of the Buddy Project, which pairs people up online to offer support and suicide prevention, and Elyse Fox, whose documentary about depression led to the online platform, the Sad Girls Club, that works to build supportive community where folks can talk openly about their emotions, without shame. Who are the people in your life who take care of their thoughts, feelings, and nurture themselves and ask for help when they need it?
Part of our mission at CCERC is to promote counseling as something from which all of us can benefit. Mental health care, which refers to behaviors that support our social, emotional, and psychological well-being, is essential to creating a meaningful life amidst the challenges we all face—whether loss, relationship changes, discrimination, or everyday stress. We all benefit from unconditional acceptance and a space to share our experiences without judgement. We all need mental health role models and goals to aspire to, just as we do for our physical health.