By MaryLee Herrmann
Spring has sprung! Flowers are blooming! Taxes are done! Windows are being burst open to air out the winter mustiness and let in the breeze. People are peeling themselves from their cozy couches and venturing outdoors. We can breathe a sigh of relief. We survived the winter!
Some of the residents we worried about during the gray months are getting out and will be okay. We can let our guards down in this time of rolling meadows and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and all that stuff.
So, if this is such a glorious season, why is the middle of it — May — also Mental Health Awareness Month? Isn’t that kind of a downer when Mother Nature is going through a rebirth? Shouldn’t depression be on the decline now that the world is opening up to sunnier days?
Why aren’t we using September or October, leading into those tougher months, to put additional focus on this huge concern?
Did You Know?
Curious if there was a particular reason why May was the month selected to put a spotlight on mental illness, I did a little digging.
I thought the concept of having a month dedicated to increasing awareness of and reducing the stigma around mental health issues was a relatively modern one, perhaps derived in the past 20 years. But did you know that mental health awareness has been observed every May in the United States since back in 1949? It was started by Mental Health America.
You Learn Something New Every Day.
I had no idea it started back then. Though in some respects it isn’t that long ago at all. And as we’ve seen throughout history, people have had mental illness long before 1949. (Anyone else binge Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story?)
Something else I discovered is that there is a theme every year for Mental Health Awareness Month. Here are two prominent organizations I found and their themes for 2023.
- Theme: #MoreThanEnough.
- “No matter what, you are inherently worthy of more than enough life, love and healing. Showing up, just as you are, for yourself and the people around you is more than enough.”
- Their easily-navigated site provides a ton of helpful information for everyone affected by mental illness.
- Theme: Look around, look within.
- “Look around, look within — from your neighborhood to genetics, many factors come into play when it comes to your mental health.”
- They offer a helpful toolkit with resources, printable handouts, and DIY tools.
Do April Showers Bring More Than May Flowers?
So back to my original question — why was May declared Mental Health Awareness Month when most suicides occur during the winter holidays?
Turns out, they don’t. It’s common thinking that mental illness rises in the chillier months due in part to isolation, shorter days allowing less daylight, lack of exercise, and loneliness during the winter holidays. However, I found this article that sheds some light on the seasonal misunderstanding: “Spring Suicide: An (Un)Likely Combination?”
According to the authors, if you talk to anyone who works in mental health, they will tell you just the opposite is true. Things get the most difficult “just as the tulips start blooming.”
As a matter of fact, for at least 50 years, experts have known that “people attempt suicide and die more often by suicide far more often in the springtime.”
It is not entirely understood why this is, though the article states several compelling possibilities — the main one being that with all the change that takes place during the springtime, though it might seem all good, it can still have a negative effect for some people. No matter the promise of brighter days, change can be difficult. And though it states suicide specifically, it applies to many forms of depression, including bipolar disorder.
“Change is the handmaiden Nature requires to do her miracles with.”
— Mark Twain, Roughing It
While this can be a joyful and beautiful time of year, and there is so much goodness to embrace, it‘s also good to be aware there are still many factors that could contribute in an unpleasant way to your mental well-being, as well as to that of your staff and residents.
So get out and breathe the fresh air, stop and smell the flowers, and make sure you’re checking in just as much on your residents and your loved ones. As for me, I am going to go and send a blank, non-specific-holiday card to someone. It could make both of us feel good.