by Mandy Nunes, Assistant Director
May 16, 2023
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as someone who is in recovery from substance use disorder and mental health issues, I am grateful for this opportunity to share my story and help raise awareness about mental health. I live in Billings, Montana, and even here I've found that it can be challenging for people in our community to find the resources and support they need to manage these conditions. That's why I feel it's essential to talk openly about mental health to help reduce stigma and encourage people to seek help when they need it.
My experiences with substance use disorder and mental health issues started in my late teens. At first, I thought that drinking and smoking with my friends was just a rite of passage. But as I moved into my twenties, my substance use became more frequent and more intense. At the same time, I was dealing with trauma and mental health issues that made it hard to function, and I often felt like I was just barely holding on. I had multiple suicide attempts and I was hospitalized many times in my twenties, including at the state psychiatric hospital. Though these stays led to short-term stabilization, the system wasn’t set up to support me in maintaining any kind of long-term wellness or success. After discharge my mental health would decline, and I would revert back to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
For a long time, I denied that I had a drug problem. I told myself that I was just having fun or trying to cope. But eventually, my substance use got out of control, and I ended up incarcerated for many months. In 2015 I was fortunate enough to have been sentenced to a treatment court program. This was a turning point for me, and I started to see that there was hope for recovery.
Over the years, I've learned a lot about what it takes to maintain my mental health. I've also seen how stigma can prevent people from seeking help and getting the support they need. Here are a few things I think are important to keep in mind during Mental Health Awareness Month:
- Mental health is just as important as physical health. We all have mental health, and just like our physical health, it needs to be taken care of. We need to be proactive about seeking help. Maintaining holistic wellness can prevent us from entering into crisis.
- Stigma is a huge barrier to seeking help. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say things like "it’s all in your head" or "you're just being dramatic." These kinds of comments are hurtful and can make people feel like they aren't taken seriously. We need to acknowledge that mental health conditions are real, and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Recovery is possible. I've been in recovery from substance use disorder and mental health issues for over seven years now, and while it hasn't been easy, it's been worth it. Recovery is a lifelong journey, but it's one that's full of hope and possibility.
- The benefit of Peer Support is invaluable. There are people out there who have lived through the same struggles, and they're willing to offer support and guidance to others who are on the same path. There is such a deep connection and trust with someone who walked through a similar darkness and is offering their hand to help show the way out. There’s no judgement, just understanding, encouragement, respect, and hope.
- Resources can be a lifeline. Living in Billings, I've found that there are some great resources available that have helped me during my journey. That being said, many of our Montana communities are lacking local resources. Montana 2-1-1 helps connect Montanans with resources and assistance from state and local health and human service programs. Access the list of resources on their website montana211.org or call 2-1-1 if you are away from a computer or don’t have access to the Internet. The Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Division of the Department of Public Health and Human Services also has an index of services on their website. This includes links to locate different types of treatment providers. There are also lots of state-wide and national resources, such as NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness). Many resources may be available virtually and may be an option for those that live in rural and frontier communities.
- Mental health is a community issue. Mental health affects all of us, whether we're dealing with our own struggles or supporting a loved one who is. We need to come together as a community to reduce stigma, increase awareness, and advocate for better access to mental health resources. We all have a role to play in creating a more supportive and understanding environment for those who are dealing with mental health conditions.
Mental Health Awareness Month is an important opportunity to bring attention to the importance of mental health and the resources that are available to those who need them. As someone who has struggled with substance use disorder and mental health issues, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to seek help and find the support you need. But I am proof that recovery is possible! There are people and organizations out there that can help. Let's work together as a community to reduce stigma and ensure that everyone has access to the mental health resources they need to live self-directed, fulfilling lives.