Mental health: awareness and reflections

By 
Charise Lemelin
Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The events of 2020 were traumatic on a worldwide scale. Our nation faced a global pandemic, social unrest, and a tumultuous election. Doom reading and scrolling became a normal part of our days as we looked to the news or social media to see what was “next.” Things have yet to settle down and return to “normal.” Social distancing, masks, and restrictions on everything from dining out to religious services and cultural events reshaped how we interact with each other, our community, and our world.

Regardless of age, this pandemic affected us all. Our youth suffered just as much, if not more than many other groups. Pre-teen and teen brains are still developing. They don’t yet have the ability to adapt to all they faced…life disruptions, event cancellations, distance learning, loss of peer connections, and much more. They may be feeling grief and loss in addition to experiencing the negative effects science has found occur from the constant use of the internet and social media. On top of this, they are taking in the family stress of things such as job loss, financial concerns, loss of loved ones, and lack of human connection that the adults in their life are facing. Our youth must now define their own “new normal” while reconciling the lost, often dreamed about, “rites of passage” prom, sports banquets, graduation, music performances, etc.

In the past few weeks alone, I have become aware of several Montana youth who experienced suicidal ideation or made a suicide attempt. We are beginning to see the aftereffects of the pandemic. Sadly, there is much more fallout to come.

But there is a silver lining: doors are opening, conversations starting, and support is being offered in regards to mental health. Whispers, once heard only in clinical and hospital settings, are now ROARS on a global level. People need more and better access to care when they struggle with mental health. Telehealth and other mental health outreach are becoming more readily available, but universal access to care has not yet been achieved.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and a good starting point to visit with family and friends about the importance of good mental health. But don’t let the conversation stop in May. Keep it going, ask questions, offer support and assure your family mental health is part of our overall health. Talk openly, listen intentionally, and help them find coping skills to use when things are difficult. We all need effective coping skills. We saw a plethora of new

We all need effective coping skills. We saw a plethora of newfound hobbies/talents (sewing, baking, painting, and woodworking, etc.) come out of the pandemic as ways for people to cope. Let’s keep those habits going. Let’s keep making advances so everyone, regardless of where they live, how much money they have, or what they look like, can receive much-needed mental health services and support. This will help our nation begin to thrive rather than just survive.

Throughout May, the Dillon Tribune will feature a series of stories on Mental Health and highlight services and providers in our community. Read them, take them to heart and find the hope in each one. Then keep the conversations going, keep sharing, and keep mental health a priority all year long.

If you know a struggling youth, please visit ybgr.org and use the YBGRConnect feature to find help. For adults, visit 211.org, or dial 211 for access to services.

Charise Lemelin, LCSW, is the clinical director of the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, and a member of the Beaverhead County Mental Health Local Advisory Council.

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