As we close out Mental Health Awareness Month, Yusen Zhai, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Counseling and Director of the UAB Community Counseling Clinic, shares ways to promote and reduce the stigma over mental health illnesses.

The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that around 1 in 5 US adults struggle with mental and emotional difficulties. Meanwhile, children and adolescents are not immune to mental health problems, and about 1 in 6 suffer depressive symptoms. Research also suggests that older adults are at greater risk for clinically significant psychological symptoms.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented threat to mental health. Many individuals struggle with the psychosocial effects of the pandemic, experiencing increased feelings of loneliness and having less social support. However, people can be resilient and adaptive to help them weather difficult times and situations.

Ask for help from mental health professionals, family, and friends.

Social support serves as a buffer to protect people from poor mental health outcomes. If experiencing severe clinical symptoms such as loss of interest in things you have enjoyed and inability to function regularly, do not wait until these symptoms become overwhelming. Reach out to mental health professionals and talk about your concerns.

Be kind to yourself and practice self-care.

Get some physical exercise and explore relaxation/wellness programs, such as mindfulness, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercise, which can help you better manage stress and lower the risk of mental illness. Treat yourself to a nice meal and enjoy it with your loved ones. By building a self-care plan, you develop your unique coping mechanism and support system to help you thrive during this pandemic and beyond.

Be kind and supportive of one another.

Understanding, accepting, and changing the stigma associated with mental health illnesses will allow more people to receive the help they need. The more we can talk about mental health, the more we can support one another through a better and more positive mental health journey.

If you or someone you know is struggling to receive proper mental healthcare, don't hesitate to contact the UAB Community Counseling Clinic. The UAB Community Counseling Clinic offers affordable counseling services to the residents of Jefferson County. To schedule an appointment, please call 205-996-2414.