May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Then someone asks you, “How are you?” do you tell them you’re fine, even if you aren’t? If so, you are not alone. In fact, fewer than 25% of people who are not feeling their best will actually tell someone about it. This is something that many Gulf Coast organizations want to change. During the month of May, there are several ways for you to reach out for help and find resources to improve your mental health and sense of well being, so you can honestly answer, “I’m fine!”
Residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast have many reasons to feel stressed, anxious and depressed. Over the past several years, we have survived the worst hurricane in recorded history, a massive oil spill, and like the rest of the nation, we are experiencing serious economic and employment challenges that have put otherwise self-sufficient families into crisis mode. Although Coastians are a resilient bunch, the long series of disasters has taken a toll on many families and individuals. In fact, the Center for Disease Control indicates that people enduring economic problems are three times more likely to suffer serious psychological problems, including depression, thoughts of suicide and domestic abuse. Large numbers of Gulf Coast residents are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (or PTSD) related to loss of loved ones to hurricanes and military combat, being separated from loved ones, or homes and businesses damaged or lost. Nearly half of Mississippi’s Katrina survivors have reported experiencing upsetting memories, increased anger and irritability, and worries that it could all happen again; all of which are symptoms of PTSD.
The good news is Mississippians seek help for their mental health issues more often than other Southern states, according to a study from the journal, Behavioral Research and Therapy. Also good news is that South Mississippi has a number of resources for people needing help to recover and get back into the fullness of life.
The Mental Health Association of South Mississippi (MHASM) has been promoting mental wellness since 1963. Located in Gulfport’s Bayou View area, the nonprofit organization offers several community wellness programs all over the Coast. One of their most popular programs is called “WRAP” – the Wellness Recovery Action Plan. The program helps participants learn about how they currently cope with stress, and lead them to discover new ways to reduce or prevent the impact of stress on their lives. The sessions are casual and upbeat. Participants learn how to make a plan to control “triggers”, which are external things that make you feel angry or sad, and to recognize their own “early warning signs”, which are internal cues that you are not feeling well, like anxiety, headaches, or a case of the blues. Once identified, WRAP guides participants to create a practical plan of action to cope with their stress and turn negative thought patterns into positive ones. MHASM provides these workshops to Coast residents of all ages and walks of life. They also offer special WRAP workshops for veterans and military families, job seekers, and people living with depression or have experienced trauma or abuse. All of MHASM’s programs are free to residents and funded through the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, and private and corporate donations.
If counseling is what you are seeking, the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center provides a wide range of services and has offices across all Coastal counties. The nonprofit charges fees on a sliding scale based on income, and accepts most insurance. From diagnostic services to counseling, the center offers a friendly and professional staff that is available for short term, crisis and long term mental health care needs.
Other agencies that are available on the Coast include Boat People SOS, which serves the Vietnamese community, and has specific programs to help fishermen whose livelihoods have been impacted by the BP Oil Spill. International Relief and Development (IRD) offers financial literacy, and other training and resources to help people who are experiencing economic distress. Another agency, the Mississippi Interfaith Disaster Task Force (MSIDTF), provides a number of resources for people who are needing a hand up to get their lives back on track. Their primary mission is to help coordinate the efforts of local agencies, community programs and clergy/churches to increase resiliency of residents after a disaster. MSIDTF has held a summit each year during Mental Health Awareness Month that provides education, advocacy and networking opportunities for mental health service providers and interested individuals.
The theme for this year’s Community Wellness Conference is “Resilience: The Courage to Come Back With the Spirit of Humanity and Joy.” The two-day conference will be held at the Coast Coliseum on May 15th and 16th. A wide variety of learning workshops will be offered on several mental health topics, including The Impact of Stigma on Mental Illness, Cyber-Bullying, Growing Up Vietnamese American, and Treating Anger and Aggression in the Pediatric Population. There will also be a resource fair where attendees will discover the various services that are available to Coast residents to help them stay well, even while times are tough.
Many find it difficult to reach out for help when they need it, especially when it comes to their mental health. But the truth is your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical well-being. The mental health providers on the Coast are friendly, nonjudgmental, and ready to help you live life to the fullest. What better time to learn more about keeping yourself well than during Mental Health Awareness Month.
M. Scott Peck, the author of the best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, offers these words of wisdom: “Our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
So, how are you?

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