The mental health dynamics of various populations are unique but have a common thread. Most communities now recognize the importance of mental health, but many do not address it and direct individuals to proper support. I liken mental health to an invisible dog that barks loudly — at times irritatingly, annoyingly and repetitively. However, the bark can serve as a reminder that the atmosphere has shifted.
Whatever the analogy; mental health problems cannot be swept under the rug. One of the toughest realities for me to accept was that I was not OK mentally, spiritually or emotionally. As a person in a certain position, you are expected to hold it together and be strong. But what happens when strength is not an option, and the invisible dog is no longer just barking, but biting? Do you pretend to be OK, or reach out for help?
It may sound cliché, but it’s OK not to be OK. When seeking help, remember that not everyone can handle you in a weakened capacity or should have access to you in a vulnerable state. Protect yourself by confiding in people you trust and seeking professional help. Your friends, family and colleagues may be good people, but they may not be equipped to navigate your mental health challenges — especially when the “dog” in the room barks loudly and attacks sometimes from the inside out. Remember you are your greatest asset and need to be prioritized as such. This is not selfish, but necessary to survive and ultimately thrive.
There is nothing wrong with “acknowledging the dog” and asking for help when you can’t wrestle it alone. While grappling with the dog, remind yourself it’s OK to pause, but don’t give up. Rest is beneficial and necessary when coping with life. It’s okay to stop and not always be “on.” I am involved in many things professionally and personally, but sometimes, I make myself sit down and evaluate my mental health with a self-check in.
One of the most important parts of mental health is realizing you are not alone. Not everyone will understand how your dog barks, but some people will support you no matter how loud, scary and frightening the situation may seem. Many resources are available, such as support groups, emergency hotlines, courses and many options for talking with professionals who are here to guide you in your journey.
During one of my hardest seasons of life, I remember wanting to end the pain and praying for everything to go away. The amount of despair and anguish seemed unbearable. However, it was not final, and through support, therapy and removing myself from harmful situations, I became a better me. I still face mental health challenges but have become better equipped to navigate life and want to live “forward” — even when my invisible dog barks louder than normal. During these times, it’s good to have a list of support systems mapped out — a barrier fence to contain and manage the invisible dog. Even when you feel unsure, tired or overwhelmed, there are people who care. Help is available; please seek it if you need it.
Mavis A. Creagh is executive director of R3SM Inc., owner of Mavis A. Creagh Consulting and an advocate for mental health who facilitates “In Your Own Voice” — a presentation about living with mental illness. Learn more about resources at namims.org and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mental health concerns for women
“According to a late 2020 study released by CARE, a nonprofit international aid organization, while no one was ultimately spared from the anxiety, worry and overall emotional fatigue of coronavirus, women bore the brunt. Over the last year, women were almost three times as likely as men to report significant suffering due to mental health.”
Sherry Cumbest, licensed professional counselor and therapist with Right Track Medical Group