There’s probably no better time than now—when lives have been upended by the global COVID-19 crisis—to talk about mental health. So, while May has been designated national Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949, we’re grateful for the opportunity to highlight it when most of us need the reminder even more than usual.
“The pandemic really gives people insight into the loneliness and isolation that someone who has a more clinical version of depression could feel,” said Dr. Melinda Cobb, who specializes in mood and anxiety disorders at Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services.
Lessening the stigma around mental health problems and encouraging people who need help to get it is part of what the month is about. It’s also for educating the public about mental health issues, advocating for policies supporting people with mental illness, and drawing attention to the tragedy of suicide.
“Mental health really affects us all,” said Dr. DeLynn Williams, who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry at Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services. “I tell a lot of my patients that unless you live on an island or you’re a family of one or two, mental health has probably touched your family. Maybe you have a grandmother who is a really anxious person or an uncle who just gets sad and stays in the house for days upon days.”
Previously, Hancock Health’s mental health professionals have used the month of May for outreach into the community—we offer free in-person screenings for depression and anxiety disorders. But those programs aren’t possible right now because of the need for social distancing to stop COVID-19.
Instead, we’re using online platforms to encourage everyone to recognize the symptoms of depression—including having low energy for a long time or debilitating anxiety—and get professional help if it’s necessary.
“Therapy is a great thing because sometimes we just need someone to help us navigate what we’re going through. It doesn’t mean it’s a sign of weakness,” said Williams. “A lot of times, people will go to the doctor if they think they have bronchitis but won’t go to therapy if they feel depressed. But, as professionals, we know that people have chemical changes in the brain, just like they have conditions that need attention in other parts of the body. So we need to look at it as a medical issue.”
With that in mind, Hancock Health is beginning a $3.5 million campaign to build the mental health and substance use treatment capacity we need to support our growing community. Plans are to add personnel and improve our school-based prevention programs and opioid use treatment services. Contact Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation at 317-468-4583 to learn more.
And as everyone continues to work through the stress of the coronavirus global pandemic, we hope it will make us all more thoughtful about the meaning behind Mental Health Awareness Month and the role it plays in our lives year-round.
Dr. DeLynn Williams and Dr. Melinda Cobb have offices at Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services, 120 W. McKenzie Road in Greenfield. They can be reached at 317-468-6200.