May is Mental Health Awareness month. Mental health has become increasingly important in recent years and deserves recognition for its role in overall well-being. The last couple of years have tested our strength and resiliency, but it has also caused many to struggle with their mental health. In order to learn more, we reached out to Deepali (Dee) Brahmbhatt, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, who is a dual board certified Nurse Practitioner in both Psychiatric Mental Health and Family Practice. With nearly 20 years of combined healthcare experience as a social worker, critical care and gero-psych registered nurse, and now as an outpatient mental health nurse practitioner, we sat down to talk about mental health.
Mital: Can you help us understand what we all can do to de-stigmatize mental health and how we can encourage others to seek help?
Deepali: These past 2-3 years have been a whirlwind of uncertainty mixed with overwhelming amounts of information that have affected people in a way that was unpredictable and unprecedented. The stigma of mental health has always been this dark and looming cloud rooted in stereotypes and even discrimination for many years. However, the optimist in me feels that it is being lifted slowly but surely.
I recognize that it is not easy for anyone to say, “I need help with my mental health” without worrying about how that statement will be received in the minds of others. However, it is those people that are equipped with a vital tool that allows them to do just that; and that is self-advocacy. Self-advocacy simplified is: knowing yourself and believing in yourself, knowing your needs and knowing how to meet your needs by vocalizing them and being assertive. So you might ask, ‘How can one become an advocate for their own mental health?’ The answer is in education and communication.
The more one knows about what mental health is and isn’t or what it looks like and doesn’t look like, then the more likely one will be able to combat those same stigmas and stereotypes that prevent people from utilizing resources that promote mental well-being. Mental health is not a novel concept but addressing its significance and the crucial role it plays in daily life is certainly being embraced more and more, in my experience, due to more accessible information and education. The more we talk about it the more we can ‘normalize’ it.
Mital: For those experiencing mental health problems, can legal problems also affect those numbers?
Deepali: Life is dynamic right? Meaning it is always changing in some way. The inability to adapt to change can be a source of stress. Chronic stress, however, can cause mental health problems. Legal problems are typically not something short lived and thus a source of chronic stress. Legal problems are one of many risk factors in developing mental illnesses like major depression, PTSD, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, substance use disorders, etc. Legal issues such as divorce, domestic violence, incarceration, financial trouble or bankruptcy can be contributing factors of mental illness due to their stressful nature especially when compounded with the stressors of daily life. According to NAMI (2022):
1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
Legal situations are often accompanied with heightened emotions, due to the unforeseen and often uncharted territory of legal trouble. This can lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms and an increase in mental illnesses. Not everyone is readily equipped with the knowledge and skills to navigate these situations and lacking the necessary resources and tools to reconcile them can have negative outcomes. I would recommend to anyone who feels that they may be experiencing a mental health issue, to seek psychiatric help or speak with their primary care provider.
Furthermore, communication is key, especially for children and adolescents, and it begins at home and then can be reinforced in school. It is important for parents and teachers to know the signs of mental health struggles in this impressionable age group and to be able to talk about it with kids in a therapeutic manner. It is also important for parents to advocate for their children and seek mental health assistance sooner than later. This way, the foundation of its essence is established at a very young age; which, again, can help normalize the importance of mental well-being.
Communication, education and honesty about one’s own mental health are some of the first steps of the journey. These first steps can be difficult but with the help of a good support system like friends, family, teachers or co-workers, one can be encouraged to seek professional help by way of a therapist or psychiatric provider. Your support system can encourage you by talking about your feelings or asking questions in a non-judgmental way while showing compassion. These are very simple steps we can all take to help someone who may be in need.
We can all educate ourselves regarding mental health by asking our primary care providers or reading from reputable sources like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or The National Alliance on Mental Health, NAMI, (www.nami.org). NAMI is an organization that is dedicated to educating and helping those with mental health needs. My hope is that people can seek treatment for mental well-being with the same level of ease as seeking treatment for physical well-being, without being stigmatized or discriminated against.
Mital: What would your take away be for those individuals on the fence about seeking treatment?
Deepali: I would say, be an advocate for yourself and your loved ones. Seek help sooner than later. Make an appointment with a provider with the same ease and comfort as you would if you had a sore throat. I strongly believe that you do not have to suffer. Someone who is well-trained is willing to help you and listen, so let them. It can start as a simple conversation with your primary care provider who can then guide you in the right direction. Something I say to all my patients is to be kind to yourself, give yourself grace and be your own best friend. To those who are in the position to help, I would say to extend compassion, care and concern.
Learn more about Dee Brahmbhatt, PMHNP-BC at www.KnoxPsychNP.com.
217 S. Peters Rd.