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Mental Health Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Solutions

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan

This is a follow-up to the previous blog called Mental Health Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Personal Responsibility & Accountability. If you missed part 1, check out Mental Health Awareness Month: Let's Talk Suicide Rates. Part 2 is Mental Health Awareness Month: Let's Talk Stigma and Discrimination. This episode wraps up the Mental Health Awareness Month series and looks at some possible solutions and alternatives to death by suicide. Trigger warnings for suicide.

YouTube video and Soundcloud audio available.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. June is Pride month. For me, June marks one of the heaviest days of my life and part of my own suicide story. With this in mind, this post looks mostly to the works and labour of abolitionists and disability justice activists, and advocates who I’m learning from and are paving the way into alternative futures that emphasize the importance of community care over individualism; wellness over illness; self-care over burnout and over-work; or rest over hustle and grind culture. Many of whom are queer or draw from queer communities.

Here are 7 possible solutions and alternatives.

1. Keep It Real with Yourself

This one goes for all of us. I’m learning myself that it can be so easy to slip into denial and delusion when reality is too painful to accept. But we have to do our best to keep it real with ourselves and each other. So many of us are struggling with our mental health and rather than admit and accept it, we deny and lie to ourselves and others that we are okay, then turn around and judge or project our fears around the topic onto others, resulting in stigma and discrimination of different degrees. Let’s stop this, myself included.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) reminds us that everyone has mental health and will experience some challenges to their mental well-being at some point, though not everyone will experience mental illness.

On their website, they help us differentiate the difference between mental health and mental illness. They write, “Mental health is a concept similar to “physical health”: it refers to a state of well-being. Mental health includes our emotions, feelings of connection to others, our thoughts and feelings, and being able to manage life’s highs and lows.” Adding, “The presence or absence of a mental illness is not a predictor of mental health; someone without a mental illness could have poor mental health, just as a person with a mental illness could have excellent mental health.” To this end, it’s important to keep it real with ourselves so we don’t end up running toxic subconscious patterns that harm others (we’ve all been there at some point, myself included). Keep it real.

2. Speak Up/Ask for Help/ Have a Safety Plan in Place

Having an emergency safety plan in place is helpful. Mapping out what an emotional safety plan looks like in advance helps alleviate some of the tension and stress when in crisis. It is empowering and gives us a sense of bodily autonomy. It places agency back in our hands, especially when life makes us feel so powerless.

I recently attended “Mad Mapping: A Guide to Creating an Emotional Safety Plan” presented by Barnard Center for Research on Women which was really helpful. The workshop was facilitated by Antoinette Chen-See and Lilac Vylette Maldonado of Fireweed Collective. They described emotional safety plans also known as “mad mapping” as, “documents we create that help us to navigate our emotional terrains, particularly as they relate to issues like oppression and trauma.”

The Fireweed Collective’s Mad Mapping workshop addressed anti-oppressive approaches to emotional wellbeing, offering “strategies for coping with and transforming individual struggles, especially in the larger context of social injustice.” They gave us tree analogies and soup metaphors. Asked us to write down labels that others have given us (for example, lazy, crazy, emotional, sensitive, dramatic, etc.), identify who labeled us as such (for example, our caregivers, society, teachers, medical professionals, etc.), and the origin story behind these labels (for example, childhood, immigration policies, white supremacy, capitalism, etc.). We thought of mad representations in media. Created new labels. As well as things that are important to us, and who make us feel safe. I highly recommend the YouTube video.

I also love Mia Mingus and the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collectives’ work on Pods and Pod Mapping. As Mia Mingus says, “asking people to organize their pod is much more concrete than asking people to organize their community.” The concept of community can be fraught and unclear. Some people can barely identify 1-2 people they would call on if in crisis. Pod mapping helps us get clear about who we are accountable to and who is accountable to us. Check out the worksheet and fill it out with others. Full transparency, do as I say, not as I do. As adrienne maree brown says, “move at the speed of trust.”

3. Educate Yourself and Others

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recommends that we “learn the signs, symptoms, definitions, and other important facts about mental illness conditions, disorders, substances, medications, and therapies.”

Making more people knowledgeable is a start, including what emotions are, how to regulate them, teaching about the nervous system, how it's connected to the brain, neural pathways, neurotransmitters, etc. I love that therapists online are offering us accessible resources that explain these crucial aspects of our mental health so we can take our health into our own hands.

Granted you have access to the internet; Google and the internet are free. There are lots of resources out there, some of which are listed above. I just checked out The Gen Grief Toolkit written by Camille Sapara Barton. The Nap Ministry retweeted it and is mentioned in it. I found some of the practices, definitions, and prompts helpful. They also mentioned the Resilience Toolkit created by Nkem Ndefo. Also check out the Creative Interventions Toolkit if you haven’t already. Educate yourself cause, “the more you know.”

4. Invest in and Advocate for Art, Mental Health, and Social Support Services

Artists are so crucial in moving the needle in these conversations forward, as are educators, and medical practitioners. Support them and their work. Pour into those that are having these conversations. Cash app, Paypal, or Venmo your favourite mad person. Don’t frame social services as “handouts.” Stop asking people to do unpaid labour or “strap up their bootstraps.” Not when reparations are owned, unliveable wages are a thing, and people are intentionally pushed into marginalization, oppression, and poverty.

Divest from policing and demand more be put into social and human services.

We need more funding. To support educators, parents, and children in developing emotional literacy, and early. We don’t learn about financial literacy enough, the same can be said about emotional literacy and intelligence. When we talk about stress or trauma, it's often contextualized within the context of adulthood unless we’re looking back in retrospect at our childhoods. But so rarely do we address the mental health of children when they are going through the different stages of development. The same goes for our elders and seniors, invest in them more. Ensure that every human has support right from the very beginning through to the end of life.

Make sure that families have access to health care, food to eat, and safe and adequate housing. Eliminate the financial stressors that distract adults from tending to the minds of children, not to mention, themselves. Create jobs, pay for sick leaves, and improve standard and quality of living.

5. Push for Socio-Political and Economic Changes

It’s important how big pharma approaches mental health, same with politicians, law and policymakers, physicians, mental health practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, etc. For those who have spent time in a so called “psych ward,” you know where and how so much can and should be changed. Police officers should not be tasked with wellness checks. ODSP and Ontario Works need to be increased, same with the minimum wage. Cancel student debt loans. Do away with food deserts, and amplify food sovereignty, not just food security. There are so many things within the socio-political and economic infrastructure that needs to be revamped, overhauled, or done away with completely.

Admittedly, this area is not my forte. I’m feeling quite numb and apathetic right now. But we do have more power than we think we have and tend to give power away thinking we don’t have any. Check out the work of others like Mariame Kaba, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

6. Turn to Communal Care and Community

Advocate for community care over self-care alone. I refer to others above because I struggle in this area and will come off hypocritical because I don’t practice what needs to be preached here.

If you know my story, you know I believe deeply in the power of community and collaboration. I’m African and was raised on, “it takes a village,” always have and always will. Family was everything to me, as were my friends, and sisterhood. But life happens and I’m currently moving at the “speed of trust.” I acknowledge I can do better and that I’ve been traumatized into extreme, and intense individualism. Even then, I do nothing alone and only get by because of communal support. Don’t go it alone, it’s a myth and trap. Reach out. Talk to others. Utilize crisis hotlines. Find an online community. Share space. Find joy with family and friends. Do all the things surrounded by those that are for you.

Watch your back though, cause not everybody is for you, even when they say they are. Trusting others is important, but make sure you trust yourself first and foremost. Trust your intuition. Protect your peace. Know that energy is the ultimate snitch, listen to it. Pay attention.

7. End Stigma and Discrimination/Be Trauma and Violence Informed

Enough with the stigma and discrimination, cut it out. It only backfires because as I started with, we’ll all struggle with our mental health at some point. Get to know people for who they are. Assume less, dialogue more. Have difficult conversations. Seek support. Ask how folks need to be supported. Be mindful of the stereotypes we perpetuate about ourselves and each other. Check where you are doing what bell hooks calls “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’s” work. Silence the cop in you. Do away with the state in you. Do better, be better.

Understand that folks are impacted by violence and trauma and that it shapes and colours much of our lives. How we behave, the thought patterns we have, and how we treat ourselves and each other. As cliché as it sounds, you really never know what someone has been through or is going through, so be kind.

Happy Pride. Please like, subscribe, and share.

Until next time, in solidarity.

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