This Mental Health Awareness Month, we have witnessed multiple events that show just how necessary attention to mental wellness is.
First, of course, there’s the coronavirus pandemic. There have been close to 2,000,000 cases and over 100,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the United States. However, what remains mostly unspoken is the growing mental health crisis faced by the nation as rates of depression, anxiety, and PTSD continue to climb. Fear of the virus, rapidly increasing unemployment rates, and growing division within the country all contribute to these issues. The mostly fragile mental health system is unprepared for the continued increase in mental health challenges.
Then, there’s another situation or rather situations to contend with: the widespread rioting resulting from the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Brionna Taylor, and George Floyd. Regardless of one’s political inclinations, the sudden increase in violence and division can only compound existing instabilities.
Jill D’Arpino, a mental health advocate, author, and founder of Aftermath of Suicide, knows all too well about mental health struggles. In 2014, D’Arpino lost her son, a veteran, to suicide. He took his life right after Christmas. After his death, D’Arpino’s mental health spiraled, and for a while, she was unsure she would be able to continue living. Today, though still coping with depression and PTSD, she is a fierce mental health advocate and wants to be a resource for those suffering as both her son, and she has.
Through her advocacy and own experiences, she has learned three key lessons that she wants to get out to the world during these difficult times concerning self-care, self-acceptance, and daily habits.
Learning to Self-Care
Meditation and yoga are two of the most discussed self-care activities, but they do not work for everyone. Some people self-care with daily time spent in nature while others spend part of the day releasing frustration on a punching bag. After Jill D’Arpino’s son took his own life, she spent the first year in the aftermath of his suicide in complete shock; self-care was not the focus.
“It took me a while after my son took his life to care enough about ME. The first year was a sheer shock. I’ve come to know that only YOU can make YOU a priority. Read, walk, listen to your favorite upbeat music, religious affiliation, cook if you like. Anything that feeds your soul,” she explained.
Another critical aspect of self-care is being incredibly cautious with what and whom you spend your time. Unfortunately, the country’s recent issues have not brought out the best in everyone, and Americans remain divided. Spending excessive time on social media engaged in divisive conversations can only flare anxiety and other issues. It is best to minimize this type of activity.
One of D’Arpino’s favorite mantras is to “never confuse people who are always around you, with people who are always there for you.” As a person coping with a mental health challenge, one cannot waste time with people who are not pure intentioned.
Learning to Practice Self-Acceptance
Per the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 US adults has a mental illness. Even with the prevalence of mental health challenges, there remains a widespread stigma. Men, especially struggle with transparency around mental health challenges, fearing people may perceive them as lacking masculinity.
Mental Health Awareness Month in and of itself is a message to the nation to practice acceptance and compassion towards those with mental health issues and to be comfortable with having these challenges as they arise.
Jill D’Arpino’s movement and platform, Aftermath of Suicide, aims to bring awareness of mental health issues and widespread acceptance. For her, self-acceptance was not especially challenging as she immediately recognized the intensity of her own experiences.
“I was always ok with myself and my depression. I went through a lot. Depression is not a choice. We don’t wake up and say, ‘You know, I think I’ll be depressed today.'”
D’Arpino also wants to remind people that elements of stigma are likely to stay and to try to make peace with that.
“People that don’t suffer do not understand, and won’t. Be ok with that; there’s nothing wrong with you. There are things about people they will never know that you do like empathy, kindness, and patience,” she emphasized.
Learning to Live Day by Day
The pandemic and other national issues not only create collective unrest but plant the seeds for and intensify preexisting mental health issues. With many still in quarantine and unemployed, fears of what the future will bring are overwhelming.
Learning to live day by day instead of for the future is a grounding exercise that can reduce anxiety and stress.
Loss comes in numerous forms, for Jill D’Arpino, of course, her most significant loss was that of her son when he committed suicide in December 2014.
“Living day to day is the hardest I think in the aftermath of suicide. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with everything that you’ve lost and what is going on around you,” she said.
She urges to take one thing at a time, putting essential tasks first. Depression has a way of making an even simple “to-do” list seem momentous and unmanageable. It can also help create a “have-done” list as a way of recognizing small accomplishments as tasks get crossed off the original “to-do” list.
Another essential part of living for today? Ending people-pleasing. When stopping people-pleasing, feelings of guilt diminish too.
“Stay in bed all day if you need to. No guilt. That is just another emotion you don’t need. Stay away from people who make you feel bad. They are not your friend. That can undo everything.”
Mental Health Awareness Month may be coming to an end, but mental health challenges, especially in the United States, are not. To push her movement forward, Jill D’Arpino is active on Instagram and YouTube, creating content to raise awareness and share her journey. To learn more about her work and soon-to-release book, Overcoming a Life Destroyed: The Devasting Impact of Mental Illness, How it Took My Son’s Life and Almost Mine, visit her website here.