May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Every May since 1949, Mental Health America and affiliate organizations celebrate raising awareness about mental health issues as something that can affect the lives of everyone. In this year’s theme, #4Mind4Body, one of the aspects they explore is the importance of social connections as a way to boost mental health and general wellness.
For example, did you know?
- Being lonely cause the same amount of damage to your lifespan as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is more dangerous to health than obesity.
- Poor social supports make it harder to recover from mental illnesses, while a strong social support system improves overall outcomes and the ability to bounce back from stress.
- People with strong social relationships are 50% more likely to live longer.
- And it’s not just the immediate sufferers who need support: their caregivers do as well. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common among caregivers.
(Source: Mental Health America)
What Does This Mean for Trafficking Prevention?
The children who are most at-risk of trafficking and exploitation are vulnerable because they endure stresses and hardship like poverty, statelessness, or abuse in the family and because they sometimes lack stable adult providers or a strong social safety net. The twin factors of stress and isolation mean that mental health support is vital to a robust prevention program. Although not having money to stay in school is one of the key reasons kids drop out, helping them stay in school also comes down to having emotional support and trusted adult guidance when things get difficult. Without that help and guidance, children at-risk of exploitation are also at-risk for other things–like self-harm. This is why counseling and mentorship are among the pillars of our prevention program.
Furthermore, to provide robust for children who have endured trauma or other kinds of severe stress, caregivers also need to engage in their own self-care. The mentors and counselors who work with these children need to have their own mental health support so that they can effectively receive, help carry, and provide healthy responses to the burdens the children share with them.
What We ALL Can Do
There are challenges to receiving mental health care. Not just cost and access—it’s the cultural stigmas that suggest people who need help are “crazy” or that receiving help suggests weakness. We need to help spread the message that you don’t need to wait to be in crisis to get help, there is nothing noble about needless suffering, and that facing your vulnerabilities is the opposite of weakness: it’s bravery.
Part of being a strong social connection for someone in need of help means encouraging them to get the kind of help they need.