As many of you know, May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to come together as a country and work toward raising awareness and focusing attention around a topic that touches everyone at some point, in some way. It is a topic that too frequently continues to get swept under the rug and ignored instead of facing it head on and getting help for those who need it most.
However, I challenge each of you to carry some of the momentum and awareness of mental health created in May forward, and incorporate it into your daily practices. Whether it’s as a teacher, an employer, a family member, someone with lived experience, a friend, or a community member, use your platform to educate others on the importance of maintaining your mental health, just as we do our physical health. Tell a story of recovery and hope to empower others to share theirs. Show acceptance and understanding to someone who may be struggling in their recovery, or just in general. Have responsible conversations around accurate data and information around mental health. Be supportive of others as they find their way to wellness.
Even if we haven’t experienced a mental illness ourselves, each of us likely knows someone who has, and each of us can play a role in shifting society’s mindset to view mental health in the same way that we view physical health. There is much work to be done around the stigma that still exists today, but I must say that I am encouraged by the shift in our community in the seven years I have been in this position. When I first started, the hills we had to climb to share our message were numerous, and the audiences we spoke to were skeptical and would often say, “Well it won’t happen to me or my family, so this isn’t relevant for me.” Now people understand the prevalence in our community, and are saying, “It hasn’t happened to me yet, but how can I help? How can I use this information so that when it does hit closer to home, I’m ready?”
It’s been wonderful to see the shift in our community and the innovative programming that has made seeking mental health treatment more successful and accessible. There is still much work to be done, but I do believe that with each of us doing our part, we will see the day where anyone who needs the help will receive it, and those seeking help will be embraced and supported by those around them.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia Hebenstreit is the Executive Director of The Kim Foundation. She received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.