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  • Your Mind is a Terrible Thing to Neglect

    May is Mental Health Awareness month. It was started in 1949 by Mental Health America (known as the National Association for Mental Health at that time). Rocket City Pride asked me to write something for mental health awareness since it is such an important issue. Mental Health Awareness Month is intended to destigmatize mental illness. “Green is the national color of mental health acceptance, representing hope, strength, support, and encouragement for people who live with mental illness.”

    So, how prevalent is mental illness?  According to Mental Health America’s 2023 statistics, the prevalence of adult mental illness in Alabama was 21.24% (797,000 people). The national figures were 20.78% (52,173,000  people).

    Since Pride month is in June, here are some statistics on the LGBTQ+ Community — Percent of Individuals who Identify as LGBTQIA+ with a Mental Illness: 39%

    Number of Individuals who Identify as LGBTQIA+ with Mental Illness: 5.8 million 

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    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website shows weekly themes for Mental Health Awareness and May 26-31 is LGBTQIA+ Communities. Stigma and discrimination have a negative impact on the well-being of members of the LGBTQ+ community. That may be a factor in the percentage of LGBTQIA+ people who have a mental illness. Marginalization, exclusion, and prejudice are harmful experiences. Strong social support can provide a sense of acceptance and belonging and improve people’s ability to manage stress.

    Mental health is important. Too often people neglect it. It’s important to know how to help yourself handle stress, to be able to identify what helps you be more resilient and weather life’s daily challenges. Some people notice the impact of how much social interaction they have or the amount of physical activity, structure, purpose, daylight, fresh air, exposure to nature, time engaged in hobbies, practice of active relaxation techniques, etc.

    Active relaxation is a term I use sometimes to distinguish between passive activities that seem relaxing by nature of not taking too much physical or mental energy (watching TV, playing video games, etcetera, the things we might do to unwind) and other activities that are a means of intentional targeted calming. That can include things like meditation, visualizing something calm and peaceful, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, stretching, etc. It’s helpful to try out different types of active relaxation techniques to see which is most helpful for you, as different people have different preferences. Then practicing that favorite technique every day to become more skilled at it and help it be more effective for you can be beneficial. You can think of it like strengthening a muscle by exercising it or developing a skill through frequent practice. It also means you’re more likely to remember the technique when you need it most because it’s pretty fresh in your memory. I consider it a way of de-stressing regularly like taking out the emotional garbage. You could consider it preventative maintenance, a way of taking care of yourself so that you don’t experience so much wear and tear from life’s stressors that you fall apart. It can help you be more resilient to daily stressors. Some people find it hard to allow themselves to take time out to do this preventive maintenance, as they believe they should always be doing something productive. If you neglect maintenance, you might end up unable to function for a while longer than the amount of time it would’ve taken to do enough relaxation to de-stress and recharge. It’s also important to remember that our minds and bodies are very interconnected and if you neglect your mental health, it can be detrimental to your physical health.   

    To support mental well-being, it’s also good to take care of your needs, such as getting an adequate amount of sleep, eating healthy meals regularly, getting enough exercise, and having appropriate social support. Finding the right balance between social interaction with supportive people and time alone to reflect on your thoughts and process your emotions is healthy. Journaling some of your thoughts and feelings can be a useful way to deal with things and possibly learn what coping strategies are most helpful to you.

    Sometimes people’s needs exceed what self-help alone can accomplish and it may be necessary to seek professional help. Psychotherapy can be provided by a clinical social worker, professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, or mental health counselor.

    Some people aren’t receptive to finding a therapist to help them cope due to believing it’s weak to seek help. But it’s actually smart to seek support if you need it and sometimes that makes things much easier. (Would you avoid seeing a doctor, having a cast, or using crutches for a broken leg because you thought it should heal whether or not you received medical treatment and followed a doctor’s advice?)

    Seeking a good, competent, ethical, inclusive, understanding, licensed psychotherapist can take some time. People can be unsure where to even start. Some people ask their friends for suggestions, do an internet search for therapy in their area, ask their primary doctor for a recommendation, or consult their insurance company’s provider directory. Contacting a community mental health center is another option if sessions don’t need to be frequent. (Low staff to client ratio and frequent staff turnover can mean it could take several weeks for that initial appointment and the interval between sessions might be 3-6 weeks.)

    “In the U.S., there are an estimated 350 individuals for every one mental health provider. However, these figures may actually be an overestimate of active mental health professionals, as it may include providers who are no longer practicing or accepting new patients.”

    There are some national resources such as the OutList by Outcare Health that list health care providers of various types throughout the United States and there’s a regional directory by Campaign for Southern Equality, and a local directory by Trans North Alabama.

    Additional resources are:   

    Forge Forward has a guide about types of therapists and A Transgender Survivor’s Guide to Accessing Therapy which has over 100 pages of information for trans people who have survived sexual abuse/assault

    Therapy Den is a national directory of mental health therapists that allows you to filter by specialized experience such as trans-competent, neurodiversity-affirming, body-positive (Health At Every Size), or by specialties they treat (anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, etc.). The site also has A Beginner’s Guide to Therapy: How to find a therapist.

    The Secular Therapy Project has a directory of therapists who use non-religious approaches. 

    The Open Path Collective has a directory of therapists who offer therapy on a sliding scale for those who have no health insurance and are unable to afford the full fee.

    I personally don’t recommend the subscription based telemental health platforms such as BetterHelp, Talkspace, etc. There are some good psychotherapists providing therapy through them but those companies are more focused on earning a profit than on providing quality care or maintaining confidentiality.*

    People who want virtual psychotherapy sessions instead of in person can access that through local psychotherapists who use secure videoconferencing. The important thing is to see an ethical therapist whose license to practice is in good standing with the board that regulates their profession and who you feel comfortable talking to. (Alabama Board of Examiners in Counseling, Alabama Board of Examiners in Psychology, Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners, Alabama Board of Examiners in Marriage and Family Therapy, etc.)

    Where can you find accurate information on mental health? Just a few sources for starters:

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

    Attention Deficit Disorder Association

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

    Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)  


    Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

    Mental Health America            

    National Alliance on Mental Illness 

    National Child Traumatic Stress Network

    National Eating Disorder Association

    The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

    Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

    SMART Recovery

    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

    There’s a Huntsville chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness

    Bereavement support groups for children and for adults

    If you are in crisis, or you know someone who is, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline Call or text 988. Chat TTY users, use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

    *BetterHelp – In March of 2023, the Federal Trade Commission released a notice that BetterHelp had been releasing its customers’ private and sensitive data to advertising platforms

    Article on BetterHelp sharing health information

    Written by Debbie Duquette, L.I.C.S.W. (she/her)

    Debbie is a cis-het ally who provides secular psychotherapy at Lighthouse Clinical Social Work to adults addressing attention deficit disorders or childhood trauma. She takes an inclusive approach to guiding you back to hope and healing and enjoys working with members of the LGBTQ+ community.