JFS Promotes Mental Health, Works to Reduce Stigma During Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month across the United States, and here in Austin, Jewish Family Service is working to promote mental health and reduce stigma related to mental illness.
Societal conversations about mental illness usually only arise during times of community trauma. However, these issues remain prevalent despite often remaining out of the spotlight. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental health condition. Estimates from the National Institute of Mental Health suggest that only half of people with mental illness receive treatment.
JFS Therapist Emma Howitt is hopeful that holding open conversations around mental health issues will encourage more people to seek support.
“Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being. Our mental health impacts how we handle stress, relate to others and make important daily choices,” she said.
Mental health conditions encompass a variety of difficulties, ranging from situational stress resulting from sudden life transitions such as job loss, divorce or grief, to longer term challenges such as chronic depression. Good mental health is more than just the absence of symptoms. The World Health Organization states, “There is no health without mental health.”
Howitt emphasizes that mental health is a universal experience.
“Mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depression are a signal that we need to address our emotional well-being, the same way that a fever signals us to rest our bodies and seek a doctor’s help. Most people have either struggled with maintaining their own mental health or love someone who faces these challenges,” she said.
Social stigma is one of the primary obstacles for individuals to overcome in seeking support. Throughout the world, people who have mental illness have faced stigma that characterizes them as defective.
“The stereotypes and prejudice regarding mental health conditions and treatment have stood in the way of many people seeking the help they deserve,” Howitt emphasized. “Mental health issues are part of the human experience and not a result of personal weakness or poor character.”
Education, compassion, and a willingness to talk openly about mental health are a few of the first steps in reducing stigma.
Howitt described examples of symptoms that might indicate a need to seek support, such as irregular sleep patterns, poor diet, increased stress, decreased enjoyment of everyday activities and increased isolation.
“We understand how important a network of support can be during a challenging time. One of the most effective tools in treating mental health conditions is staying connected to a support system of friends, family and community,” she said.
Jewish Family Service works to assist people with overcoming life challenges both large and small. JFS promotes well-being across the life span for the Austin Jewish community and community-at-large through a range of programs designed to address critical areas of need. Services include counseling and therapy, support groups and workshops, support for people with disabilities and assistance tailored for senior adults.