Today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. A day recognized by the World Health Organization as a day to raise awareness for mental health issues and give a spotlight to mental health care organizations and workers to discuss what needs to be done to provide accessible mental health care worldwide.
On this day, I wanted to write a quick blog about my thoughts on mental health after working in the field for several years, as well as cross-culturally.
First of all, I’m happy to see that mental health is something that is becoming less and less taboo in many places. When I worked at a public high school in the U.S., my students were open and willing to talk about mental health with me, their classmates, their friends, etc. The stigma around mental health still existed, but I could see that it was growing smaller with that generation of young people. Still, the stigma around mental health existed perhaps for their parents, grandparents, caregivers, and many teens had trouble speaking about their struggles to their older family members.
I also noticed during my time working with at-risk youth and families (in multiple cities, at multiple jobs) that mental health care is far less accessible and affordable in lower socio-economic areas and amongst those families. The care that’s available to families receiving Medicaid (in the U.S.) is limited, and typically the workers are spread thin. I speak from experience, as a case worker who had about 50 children and families on my caseload, all of whom received Medicaid and had mental health diagnoses. Rarely were my colleagues and I able to accomplish everything asked of us in that role, let alone able to provide quality care to our clients.
Another thing I took note of as I got more into the world of therapy is the expense. I think we can address the elephant in the room and just say, therapy is expensive. If you go to a private practice or group practice therapists, you’re looking at paying upwards of 70 USD. And don’t get me wrong, therapists deserve to make a fair wage, and they have expenses related to maintaining their license, continuing their education, keeping up with a business, etc. But the reality is that many people cannot afford therapy consistently when we consider how low the minimum wage is in countries like the U.S.
Now that I’m living and working internationally, I’ve also noticed that there’s a great need for mental health care for people living outside of their home culture. It is a huge undertaking to try to make life work in a different country, culture, and language. Personally, I find myself thinking I’ve adjusted to life in Spain, only to realize there’s a glaring new reality for me to face that I’d never considered before (see: public health care, or self-employment taxes). Many people who live or have lived cross-culturally have expressed to me a feeling of being misunderstood, like the people around them who are ‘monocultural’ just don’t seem to understand. I’ve realized there’s a need for international therapy, with therapists who have also got some cross-cultural experience and can relate.
One last thing that has caught my attention over the course of my work with children has been the need for parents to get comfortable with talking about mental health with their children. When I meet with parents whose children are struggling with transition, feeling homesick, anxiety, and other mental health problems, I find it very helpful for parents not to shy away from these topics with their children. In fact, I often encourage parents to appropriately share their feelings, their struggles, their experiences with their children as an invitation to their children for conversation around these topics. If kids see their parents are able to say, “You know what, I’m feeling really homesick. I’m missing family and the comforts of our old home,” it gives kids permission to feel their feelings AND to talk about those feelings, too.
So, after reflecting on my past years working in the field of mental, as someone who has also received mental health care, what are my takeaways?
Well, for one, we have got to continue the dialogue around mental health. The more we talk about it, the more we normalize it and it becomes less scary. (This goes for suicide too. And no, talking about suicide, does not make people suicidal. It saves lives.) We need to find people who are willing to enter in to these kinds of conversations with us. Comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because yes, many times– if not most times, talking about our struggles is uncomfortable and humbling. But it’s necessary. (I’ll write another blog post about this topic soon.)
Two, we need more access to affordable mental health care and affordable therapy. Many therapists do offer sliding scales or pro bono therapy, which can be very helpful. It’s also crucial that governments do more in the way of insurance, funding, and providing resources to mental health organizations. The mental health organizations that already exist are enormously under-funded and over-worked. This is a systematic change that has to happen at the government level.
As individuals, we can advocate for ourselves to our insurance companies (asking for reimbursement or an allowance for mental health services), inquire about sliding scales or assistance (often times even private agencies will have funds from donations to help people in need of assistance), and look for online free resources to aid in mental health.
Three, we need to practice really good self-care. Self-care is a great form of prevention as it relates to anxiety, depression, burn-out, and some other common mental health problems. You can get dozens of ideas for self-care by simply searching for it online. It’s important to note that self-care can’t be a replacement for therapy, medication, or treatment, but if you’re experiencing mild symptoms of anxiety or depression, it can serve as a great tool in conjunction with those.
Lastly, I encourage you to try to remove your own feelings of shame or stigma around mental health and get the care you need. There is NO shame in going to therapy, taking medication, or needing help. It’s a brave and courageous thing to step out into the world and ask for help. You don’t have to do it alone.
If you or someone you know if looking for affordable counseling, especially from a cross-cultural perspective, please contact me to inquire about international, English-speaking counseling. I offer online and in-person (in the Malaga, Spain area) counseling and a free 15-minute video or phone consult to get started.
Take care of yourself, and be well.