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Looking out for your mental health

More support, less stigma: How you think, feel and act impacts your well-being.

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What is mental health?

There is an increased awareness of mental health in our daily lives — in the news, at the Tokyo Olympics, in schools, while at work. But what does mental health actually mean? And why is it important to focus on when we talk about improving our overall health and well-being?

To begin, you may also hear the phrase "behavioral health" come up in discussing mental health. There is a difference and relationship between mental and behavioral health. We need to understand their definitions, differences and roles in what it means to be healthy.

Both mental and behavioral care recognize that health is more than physical wellness. It’s also connected with our thoughts, habits and moods.

  • Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects the ways we handle stress, make choices and interact with others.
  • Behavioral health involves our actions and their effect on our physical and mental health.

It's common for a person to be struggling with both a mental health and a behavioral health challenge.

 

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  • Get familiar with mental health
    Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being.

    It also relates to:

    • Preventing or treating mental illness such as depression or anxiety
    • Preventing or treating substance abuse or other addictions
    • How we think, feel and act

    Mental health helps determine how we handle stress, make choices and interact with others.

    Common topics related to your mental health

    1. Panic disorder
    2. Anxiety
    3. Suicidal ideation
    4. Depression
    5. Sleep difficulties
    6. Guilt or self-blame
    7. Concentration problems
    8. Anhedonia (lack of enjoying things)
    9. Drinking or using more than intended
    10. Unwanted memories
    OR
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Some of us struggle more than others in taking care of our mental health. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says cultural stigma, discrimination and language barriers can get in the way.1

Doctors, health plans, employers and other companies are working to address these challenges. For example, work underway includes:

  • Increasing diversity in the health care workforce
  • Finding new ways to use technology, like virtual care and apps, to make care more convenient and available in the privacy of your home
  • Reducing stigma surrounding mental and behavioral health issues

 

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Helping all people feel comfortable getting care

Talking about mental and behavioral health topics is not always easy. But while these conditions may not be openly discussed, they are common.

Mental health conditions generally affect 1 in 5 American adults each year.2 After the last year, the numbers may be higher. A recent study showed nearly one-third of U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in the spring of 2021.

Yet as many as 60% of adults with a mental health condition may not get services they need.3

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Reducing stigma related to mental health

The stigma — a set of negative and often unfair beliefs — surrounding mental and behavioral health issues can prevent people from seeking help or talking about their concerns. So privacy may become a critical part of the care journey.

The stigma has declined in recent years. But we can all play a role in improving acceptance of discussing and caring for issues related to mental and behavioral health.

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  • Stand up to stigma

    1. Talk openly about mental health
    2. Educate yourself and others
    3. Be conscious of your language
    4. Encourage equality between physical and mental illness
    5. Show compassion for those with a mental illness
    6. Choose empowerment over shame
    7. Be honest about treatment
    8. Let the media know when they are being stigmatizing
    9. Don't harbor self-stigma
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It starts when you're young

Mental health is important at every stage of life. Half of all mental illness begins by age 14.4 Millions of children and teens live with mental health issues — as many as 1 in 5.5

Now, after more than a year of interrupted routines and loss, children and teens are dealing with new sources of stress, anxiety and grief.

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Until It’s Fixed podcast: Supporting Our Kids

Listen as three psychiatrists discuss youth mental health, recognizing symptoms and how family and caregivers can help.

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Protecting and promoting your mental health

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Mental health resources

Bringing attention to your emotional well-being

We’ve partnered with PsychHub to help you find resources and educational tools.

Access resources

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Article

Reducing disparities in treating anxiety and depression

How can we help all people recognize symptoms and overcome barriers to getting the support they need?

Read more

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Thriving with Anxiety and Depression

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Hello, and thank you for joining us at Essence Wellness House. I'm Victoria Uwumarogie, lifestyle editor for Essence Magazine, and I'm here to have an important conversation with you about thriving with anxiety and depression. I'm talking with two very informed panelists about this topic, and they are Dr. Cleo Booker. She is a psychologist and clinical leader at Optum. And Roxane Battle. She is the vice president of Sanvello Health. Hello, ladies.

Roxane Battle:

Hello!

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about this very, very important topic.

Roxane Battle:

We're glad to be here.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

All right. So, let's get into it. Um, definitely, you know, the last year has been a lot for everyone. Um, you know, along with the global pandemic, we all faced our own challenges of many kinds, socially, culturally, physically, politically, financially, but especially, you know, emotionally.

Roxane Battle:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Most of us, it was hard and it continues to be a very hard and difficult period in our lives as we kind of adjust to the ways in which we've been having our schedules disrupted and had so much stress come into our, you know, our circles.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

So, we wanna have a conversation, because working moms and people of color have been especially impacted by a lot of the changes that are going on within the last year and change. So, we wanna have a good conversation and cut through all the noise and talk about, you know, mental health and find out what we can do to manage our situations, our unique challenges, while also supporting each other in being able to be happier and healthier.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

So, to start, ladies, I'd love to hear your views, you know, looking back on the last, you know, year and change that it's been, you know. What have you witnessed as health professionals when it comes to the magnitude of the numerous challenges we faced and the way that they impacted our overall mental health and wellbeing?

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

Thank you, Victoria. I- I really appreciate this conversation, uh, because it is something we really need to talk about. Uh-

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Yeah.

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

... we have all been impacted in one way or another from 2020, and we're continuing to be impacted in 2021. It's not over yet, right? We're still in this. Uh, prior to 2020, it was only about 11% of Americans that experienced mental health symptoms. We are now up to 40% of Americans that acknowledge they're experiencing some form of depression or anxiety. Especially women of color that have children in the home; they are now up to 49%, so almost half of women of color are now saying and admitting that they're experiencing some form of anxiety and depression.

Roxane Battle:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

Some people may ask, "What exactly is anxiety and depression," because we all may feel sad, we all may feel nervous at some point, but what exactly does that, that balance really mean where you move from just feeling sad or nervous? Depression is at a time where you feel low, you feel stuck, you feel sad, and you can't get out of it. It's almost like quicksand is pulling you down and you can't figure out how to climb out of it, and it holds onto you to the point where it starts impacting your life. You may start to feel irritable and easily snapping at people, your children, your loved ones, not able to focus at work. At that point, you've tipped from just feeling sad to depressed. Um, and that's where you may need to reach out for help, which I'm hoping we'll get further into the conversation about.

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

Anxiety is more along the lines of feeling very, just, nervous and almost like fearful most of your life. Um, for no reason. You can't really kinda put your finger on why you may feel a- afraid or shaken or unstable. You may actually feel like you're having some people... It feels like a heart attack, uh, because your heart starts racing. So, a lot of people will go to the emergency room thinking that they're having a heart attack, and it's really anxiety.

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

Last year was really tough, even as myself as a licensed psychologist and mental health professional. The one that's supposed to have it all together. Uh, I was a nervous wreck. I have three young, black boys at home that were now stuck with me all the time. I was supposed to be a teacher, a wife, a mom, um, I was supposed to continue to be... I'm also spiritual and supposed to be the one that has it all together, but I was doubting my capacity and my capabilities at the time.

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

I was thrown into the fact that I had to teach my young black boys, ages eight, seven, and four, that people didn't like them because of the skin of their... because of the color of their skin. That was a very difficult conversation to explain to them that, right now, people are marching the streets in my town, uh, Richmond, Virginia, because police officers had killed someone that looks like them.

Roxane Battle:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

I was trying to figure out how do I deal with my own anxieties, and then at the same time help other people that were struggling. I also had to adapt my practices around how I deliver care and get used to delivering in telehealth. There's a lot that I had to kinda get through, but the fact is we moved past it. We were able to get through it, but how? I had to streamline a structure in my house around my kids, I had to take in all of that nervous energy, that self-doubt, and pour it into the fact that I knew that I had to teach my boys, now more than ever, what was happening in the world.

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

Um, this experience, I hope it resonates with a lot of other women of color and, just, you know, individuals where, last year was not a normal experience. And a lot of us experience self-doubt. But the fact is, we were able to get through it, and that's what kinda pushes me, uh, to this day.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Roxane, I know you have some similar experiences last year-

Roxane Battle:

You know-

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Would you like-

Roxane Battle:

Yes. I'm so glad we're having this conversation in the Essence Wellness House because that's what we have to do, is have the conversation and talk about it. Unlike you, with three vibrant boys running around the house, I am a divorced empty-nester. So, during lockdown, it was just me morning, noon and night. And there times where the walls started closing in, you know, and I work every day trying to, you know, de-stigmatize mental health and help people of color get the access they need to mental health services, and I was in need of mental health help.

Roxane Battle:

And, you know, and- and the thing is, I had to be honest and vulnerable about it and put it into words. You know, oftentimes, mental health issues are stigmatized and makes us look weak or somehow, you know, maybe our faith isn't holding us up the way we think we should. When in reality, all of that can work together by having the conversation, by ber- by relying on a faith's network and friends. And so, what I did is I got on the phone and called people, and it wasn't just, "Hey," uh, "Hey, girl. What's up? What's going on over there?" It was, "I'm having a hard time. I need to talk to somebody, and if this isn't the moment, can you tell me when it is 'cause I really need to connect with another human being."

Roxane Battle:

And I think being really honest with ourselves and having that conversation and acknowledging those feelings, because the feelings don't go away. They'll sit there and sit there and sit there until you address them and acknowledge them and deal with them. And I learned that, I learned the importance of self-care, not only for the clients at, like, at Sanvello, but for myself.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Roxane Battle:

... and to reach out and ask for help when I need it.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Yes, ladies, and you both... you both had experiences that a lot of people can relate to. Being at home with a houseful of kids trying to juggle things, as well as being on your own in the home and trying to, you know, find your peace and be centered and be balanced. And self-care is a conversation we have. A lot of times people say, "I'm practicing self-care. How do I, you know, how do I practice it?"

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Um, how can we tell when it's time to seek addition- additional help and find the right support for our individual needs?

Roxane Battle:

Well, I'm just gonna jump right in-

Victoria Uwumarogie:

That's fine (laughs).

Roxane Battle:

... and defer to Dr. Booker (laughs), is if it lingers. If- if- if the journaling, if the breathing exercise, if the meditation, if the exercising, if that's... and you still find yourself stuck in a state and you start ruminating and having thoughts about hurting yourself, that's when I think you really need to start to begin to think, "I need to really re- reach out and talk to somebody," particularly if- if everything you're doing doesn't produce a result. Would you agree with that, Dr. Booker?

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

I do. I do agree with that. If you've tried to connect with other pe- the people such as what Roxane indicated, just reaching out to a close one, a family member, a friend, even a neighbor. If you've tried connecting with people, if you've tried to do self-help, if you've tried meditating and it's just, just not going away, you still don't feel yourself. Even before you get to the point of trying to feel like you'll hurt yourself, but you're just not functioning the way that you know you can function, that's when you reach out and try to get professional help.

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

And it's as simple as calling your insurance company or, um, you- there's different resources online. I mean, you can type in find a-

Roxane Battle:

Abs-

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

... therapist, um, it's very, very simple. Applications that you can download, uh, such as Sanvello, where you can-

Roxane Battle:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

... get help immediately. Um, because it's no point of feeling stuck, uh, because you won't move forward and it starts impacting the rest of your life.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Yes, ladies, and I think we can all agree that despite all of th- the things that came with this last year with the pandemic and the things that followed, you know, the- the benefit has been that we have been able to have more conversations openly about mental health and wellness, and people aren't afraid to say, like, "I'm not doing well anymore," you know? So, I'm very glad that we're able to come together and help people figure out a way to thrive with anxiety and depression.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

So, thank you so much, ladies, for sharing your insights, um, and for being a part of Essence Wellness House. This has been such a pleasure and such a great conversation that is very much needed. So, thank you.

Roxane Battle:

Thank you, Victoria. Thank you, Dr. Booker.

Dr. Cleopatra Booker:

Thank you, Victoria. Thank you, Roxane.

Victoria Uwumarogie:

Yes. Thank you both. And thank you for watching.

 

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Video

Thriving with anxiety and depression

Watch a conversation from Essence Festival, developed in partnership with Optum, on managing mental health challenges and supporting each other.

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Find support for your mental health

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Optum Store

Find convenient and affordable therapy, medication delivery and other support to help you on your mental health journey.

Learn more

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Live and Work Well

Get access to the right support for you based on your needs and your coverage.

Learn more

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Sanvello

Improve your mental health on your terms with an app that offers clinically proven therapies and tools.

Learn more

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AbleTo

Get on-demand, personalized emotional support with a dedicated coach from the convenience of your own home.

Learn more

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More resources

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Mental health screening
Free, private and anonymous mental health screening available through Mental Health America. Based on the results, MHA will provide information and resources to help.

If you're in a crisis or thinking about suicide, get in touch with someone immediately:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (8255)
    En español 1-888-628-9454
    1-800-799-4889 (TTY)
    Text "HELLO" to 741741
    www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline
    Free and confidential mental health and substance abuse treatment referral and information services available 24/7 (in English and Spanish)
    1-800-662-HELP (4357)
    www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
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Sources

  1. American Psychiatric Association (APA). Mental health disparities: Diverse populations.
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health by the Numbers. Last updated March 2021. Accessed October 1, 2021.
  3. World Health Organization. Universal health coverage for mental health. Accessed August 4, 2021.
  4. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Health Facts: Children and Teens. Accessed September 1, 2021.
  5. World Health Organization. Mental disorders. November 28, 2019. Accessed August 4, 2021.