May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time for raising awareness about the importance of mental health and the impact it has on our lives. As a parent, teacher, educator, or librarian, we have a significant role to play in promoting mental health awareness and reducing the stigma around mental illness. In this article, we will discuss what mental health is, the different types of mental illness, their symptoms, treatment options, and prevention strategies.

Mental health refers to a person’s overall psychological well-being. It includes the ability to think, feel, and act in ways that promote personal growth, healthy relationships, and a sense of purpose in life. Mental health can be affected by various factors such as genetics, life experiences, and environmental factors.

Mental illness is a broad term used to describe a range of mental health conditions that affect a person’s thinking, mood, and behavior. Some of the most common types of mental illness include:

  1. Depression: a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness that lasts for weeks or months.
  2. Anxiety disorders: a group of mental health conditions that cause intense feelings of fear, worry, or nervousness. Examples include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
  3. Bipolar disorder: a mood disorder that causes extreme mood swings between depression and mania.
  1. Schizophrenia: a chronic mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly.
  2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): a type of anxiety disorder characterized by persistent, intrusive thoughts or obsessions, and repetitive behaviors or compulsions.
  3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a mental health condition that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event such as violence, natural disasters, or military combat.

The symptoms of mental illness can vary widely depending on the type of condition and its severity. Some common symptoms of mental illness include:

  1. Changes in mood: persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, or irritability.
  2. Changes in behavior: withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating or completing tasks.
  3. Changes in thinking: difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, delusions or hallucinations.
  4. Changes in physical health: unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or fatigue.

It’s important to note that not everyone with a mental health condition experiences the same symptoms, and symptoms can change over time.

There are several effective treatments available for mental illness, including:

  1. Psychotherapy: also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy involves working with a mental health professional to identify and manage symptoms of mental illness.
  2. Medication: medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers can be used to manage symptoms of mental illness.
  3. Support groups: connecting with others who have similar experiences can be a valuable source of emotional support and encouragement.
  4. Lifestyle changes: getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can also help manage symptoms of mental illness.

While not all mental illness can be prevented, there are several steps you can take to promote mental health and reduce the risk of developing a mental health condition:

  1. Practice self-care: taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health is essential for overall well-being.
  2. Build strong relationships: social connections with friends, family, and community can provide emotional support and help reduce stress.
  3. Manage stress: stress can be a trigger for mental illness, so it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress such as exercise, relaxation techniques, or seeking support from a mental health professional.
  4. Seek help when needed: if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of mental illness, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Early intervention can help prevent the condition from getting worse.
  5. Create a supportive environment: creating a supportive environment at home, in the classroom, or in the community can help reduce the stigma around mental illness and promote mental health awareness.

Mental health awareness is critical for promoting overall well-being and reducing the stigma around mental illness. As a parent, teacher, educator, or librarian, you have a significant role to play in promoting mental health awareness and creating a supportive environment for those who may be struggling with mental health issues. By understanding the different types of mental illness, their symptoms, and treatment options, you can better support those who may be struggling and encourage them to seek help when needed. Let’s work together to promote mental health awareness and reduce the stigma around mental illness.

Great Children’s Books to Read for Mental Health Awareness Month

Me and My Sister

By Rose Robbins

Ages 3 to 7

Getting along with your sister is never easy—especially if your brains work in different ways! Based on the author’s childhood, Me and My Sister is a gentle exploration of growing up with an autistic sibling. 

Life in a neurodiverse home isn’t straightforward: these siblings communicate and behave in different ways. They’re also unique people with different likes and dislikes. Misunderstandings are bound to happen! But despite the occasional bickering and confusion, maybe this brother and sister can discover new ways to love and help one another. 

Siblings of all backgrounds will connect to this playfully illustrated story about embracing difference.

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Phone Call with a Fish

Written by Silvia Vecchini
Illustrated by Sualzo

A story for anyone who has felt like a fish out of water 

There’s a boy in class who doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t yell when a student steps on his foot, and he writes his answers to the teacher’s questions on the board. One of his classmates is trying to understand why he’s so quiet, but she can’t figure it out. But then one day the class goes to the science museum, and she discovers a phone with an aquarium full of fish on the other end of the line. And the fish, as it turns out, aren’t silent after all—they just have their own way of communicating. 

This empathy-building story will encourage readers to approach others with compassion and understanding.

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Talking Is Not My Thing

Written and illustrated by Rose Robbins

This little sister might not use words, but she’s got plenty to say! Narrated through thought bubbles, this energetic book invites readers into the day of a nonverbal girl with autism. She has so much to do—games to play, spaghetti to eat, and a missing stuffed animal to find! Sometimes life can be noisy and overwhelming, but something new is always around the corner. Talking isn’t the only way to make a joke, ask for Grandma’s help, or surprise your brother… 

Illustrated in bright colors, Talking Is Not My Thing is a joyful portrait of neurodiverse family life.

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Back to Front and Upside Down

By Claire Alexander

Ages 4-7

It’s the principal Mr. Slipper’s birthday, and while the rest of the class gets busy writing cards for the occasion, Stan becomes frustrated when his letters come out all in a muddle. Stan is afraid to ask for help, until a friend assures him that nobody’s good at everything. And after lots and lots of practice, Stan’s letters come out the right way round and the right way up.

This delightful book deals with a common childhood frustration and will remind readers that practice pays off and that everyone has to ask for help sometimes.

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By Linda Vigen Phillips

Ages 13 and up

A compelling novel in verse about mental illness

Laura is a typical fifteen-year-old growing up in the 1960s, navigating her way through classes, friendships, and even a new romance. But she’s carrying around a secret: her mother is suffering from a mental illness. No one in Laura’s family will talk about her mother’s past hospitalizations or increasingly erratic behavior, and Laura is confused and frightened. Laura finds some refuge in art, but when her mother suffers a breakdown after taking painting back up again herself, even art ceases to provide much comfort.

Eloquent and compelling, this powerful novel-in-verse tackles complex themes in a way that will have readers rooting for Laura to find the courage to get the answers she needs.

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