Written by staff member Becky Milanksi, Colorado Peer & Family Specialist
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Recovery Café Longmont is taking an active role in talking about mental health with our members and our community.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have become even more aware of how important mental health is. A 2021 Colorado Health Access Survey revealed that 38% of Coloradans over the age of 16 experienced a decline in mental health such as anxiety, depression, or loneliness, as the result of COVID-19.
We understand that mental health is an important component of our overall health and well-being, just like our physical health. But mental health conditions, resources, and conversations can still feel complicated and out of reach.
Stigma hurts recovery
One in five Americans will experience mental illness in their lifetime – that’s over 66 million people! And yet, we have a hard time talking about our mental health because of fear, societal and self-imposed stigma, and lack of support and education. I know this personally.
I am in recovery from anorexia and opioid use disorder. My illnesses were a result of unresolved trauma from an adverse childhood experience. When people who experience trauma feel they cannot talk about it and hold it inside, it can result in physical and mental manifestations, including hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, mental illness, and substance use disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over 50% of people with a severe mental illness also have a substance use disorder. What’s going on here?
Gabor Mate, a renowned physician specializing in substance use disorders and trauma, said we should not ask people “What’s wrong with you?” but instead ask “What happened to you?”
Let’s talk about mental health
In my recovery journey, I found it much easier to talk about my substance use disorder than my mental illness. I had so much internalized shame and feared the stigma of having a mental illness. Once I challenged my fear and started talking about my mental illness, I found that people in my recovery communities suddenly felt comfortable also talking about their mental health. It was enlightening to me – we, as a society, need to talk more about our mental health in order to take away the stigma and make it acceptable and understood.
So during Mental Health Awareness Month, we need to spread the word that mental health affects us all – whether we experience it ourselves or we have a friend, coworker, or loved one who is affected by mental illness. We need to let go of the stigma and shame and recover out loud!
If you or a loved one need immediate mental health support, please contact the Colorado Crisis Line at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 or call the National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255.