Grafton Experts Share Advice for Mental Health Awareness Month

May 10, 2023

For Mental Health Awareness Month, we sat down with Stefanee Lambert, Grafton’s Clinical Administrator and Case Management Supervisor in Richmond, and Dr. Robia Fields, the Medical Director of our Berryville psychiatric residential treatment facility, to get their thoughts on mental health awareness. Here are their suggestions for fostering better mental health for ourselves and those around us.

Recognize the signs of poor mental health

The first step to improving poor mental health is realizing that something is wrong. Stefanee, who is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), shared advice for recognizing signs that your own mental health could be declining: “The biggest sign is when basic issues that can happen on a day-to-day basis overwhelm your ability to manage stressors. If things feel very heavy and you can’t seem to cycle yourself out of it, it could mean your mental health needs more attention.”

Of course, it’s also essential to watch out for these signs in others. Dr. Fields, who is a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry, gave the following advice: “Watch for any change in the way others relate to you; isolation in particular could be a sign of poor mental health.” Other signs of declining mental health include change in appetite, sleep patterns, or other behaviors. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to seek help.

Take care of your physical health

“Physical and mental health are so important together,” said Dr. Fields. “Think of the body as a machine. They don’t run 24/7 — they need rest. Sometimes, they need to be temporarily shut down for repairs.” In addition to adequate rest, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding drugs and alcohol are other ways to care for your physical health.

Additionally, Stefanee recommended setting realistic, attainable goals when it comes to physical activity. “There can be such a focus on the idea that you’re not doing enough, and that can defeat your own mental health when your physical health isn’t where you want it to be,” she shared. “It can be helpful to see a doctor who can help you make smaller changes and set goals that feel attainable.”

Practice self-care

Self-care is essential to positive mental health, but what practices work best? Some common options include meditation, journaling, and time in nature, but Stefanee told us not every method is right for everyone. “Self care practices have to be individualized to what really helps that person,” she told us. “When you plan out your days, be sure to include time for the things that make you happy, whatever they are.”

Dr. Fields also weighed in, offering a piece of evergreen advice: “Practicing kindness, charity, gratitude for what you have — all of those things are like putting positivity in your mood bank.” On the topic of mood, Dr. Fields recommended another important self-care practice: Be intentional about the information you consume. “It’s important to stay informed, but not at the expense of your mental health,” she said. “Limit the negative information that’s coming in left and right. Your brain absorbs information and puts it in a file, and if your file cabinet is full of negative or harmful information, that can really overwhelm the positive things happening in your life.”

Connect with others

While isolation is one of the first signs of declining mental health, connecting with those around you can help you maintain strong mental health. It’s important to maintain connections with friends, family members, coworkers, and any mental health professionals. “Part of your health is staying connected to someone who will come alongside you and ask if you’re doing okay — and you need to do the same for them,” said Dr. Fields.

Stefanee also touched on the importance of how people interact with one other. “I think it’s important to approach any situation with a universal trauma approach,” she said. “Any space you’re in could have someone who is having a bad mental health day, and we should be open to checking in with each other and be as kind as possible.”

Reduce stigma

Both experts we spoke with agreed that reducing stigma is crucial in promoting good mental health. “The best way to reduce the stigma is to talk about it more,” said Stefanee. “We need to be aware that everybody has mental health, and it fluctuates for everybody. We all have mental health every day, and we need to normalize mental health as a state of being.”

Dr. Fields told us that mental health should be seen as an aspect of regular healthcare, just like high blood pressure and potential hereditary conditions. “I wish more people would just see it as neuro-biological,” she shared. “Like other health conditions, mental illnesses are also treatable, much more so today than they were just a few decades ago.”

Seek professional help

If you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional. “Finding the right therapist or psychiatrist can take a bit of trial and error,” explained Stefanee. “But the internet can be helpful now. You can Google various therapists, read reviews, and even use the Psychology Today website, which has a great tool for helping people find the right professionals. Employee Assistance Programs are also a good resource and often underused.”

When it comes to finding the right mental health professional, Dr. Fields encourages people to start with their family doctor. “That way, they can also rule out any physical issues. From there, doctors can often refer them to a psychiatrist or other professional.”

This Mental Health Awareness Month, take time to check in with yourself and those around you. If you’re facing challenges to your mental health, a professional can provide you with the tools and support you need.