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State of Mind: Mental health in America today

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 8:30 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, mental health recognition looks a lot different than it did in 2020.

“I see a lot of people, in a lot of pain, who are going through a lot,” said Gabby Ortega, a psychologist, researcher and trauma survivor.

But through the pain, Ortega said it opened the path toward recognizing the importance of our mental health.

“Everyone’s experiencing an awakening to their mental health for the first time. I’m seeing a lot of people seeking support, seeking community, seeking help. It gives me a lot of hope to see that we’re talking about it.”

She said those conversations are helping more people see mental health as a priority.

“We operate every day looking at our heart health, our body health, our overall wellbeing, but it never really includes the mental aspect,” Ortega said. “So I think for the first time, we’re like, oh my gosh we have to treat our mental health the same exact way we treat all the other aspects of a healthy lifestyle and include it in the conversation.”

Having those conversations aren’t always the easiest, but Ortega said they’re needed to break the stigma.

“There’s nothing wrong with you. Literally, our emotions are part of who we are, part of our biological being, and our mental health is so important, and so no shame, no judgement, just honoring and acknowledging that you’re in a space where you might need some help,” she explained.

So how do you get back to saying you’re mentally healthy? Ortega said the answer is different for everyone.

“It’s a very individual question. What feels healthy for you? And I think, you know, when we’re talking generally, we want to feel healthy in the sense that we’re happy, and we feel pretty stable and we feel like we’re present to experience our lives in a way that feels good.”

But know through the struggles you face, you’re not alone, and there are people who are trained and want to help you feel like you again.

“You can get out of that, you just have to start taking those baby steps toward giving yourself just a little more room to have compassion and love and patience as you figure things out,” Ortega said. “You can get there, and it feels like it’s so far away when you are at your worst, and you’re feeling rock bottom and you feel like, oh my gosh everything is just too much. What I want to encourage you to do is understand that’s just a place you’re in, it’s not your forever place.”

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