Mental Health Awareness Month: The Importance of Togetherness

With over 20 years of experience helping people with mental illness, Bonnie PIckney attests to the importance of family support.

Approximately 450 million people are currently living with a mental illness around the world, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, yet about two thirds of these people never seek treatment. And due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing stress and loneliness caused by social isolation, grief from losing loved ones, and loss of work; anxiety and depression alone has increased by as much as 25 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with Bonnie Pinckney, a registered nurse specializing in psychiatry in San Diego to shed light on some ways people suffering with mental illness, as well as their families, can seek treatment and support. It is important to seek help right away and not let it linger and get worse.

Togetherness, and stability, are essential.

A lot of times a family doesn’t want to believe a family member has a mental illness, but familial support is what the patient needs. “It’s more helpful if the person has family support,” says Pinckney. “Board games versus doing something electronically – bonding with people, instead of electronics, is more real. Playing a game of cards, for example, they know the cards are real because they think, ‘Before I got sick, I used to play this. It’s something I can hold.’”

“You need people who have been in your life to stay in your life,” says Pinckney. “This is not the time to take off. Your family is your basic unit. It’s important you talk to your family and for them to tell you, ‘We still love you.’ There’s a lot of patients who come in and don’t have stable families – that exacerbates the issue. And if you don’t have a supportive family, friends are important too.

Pinckney says sometimes a patient will come in to the hospital and complain they have a stomach ache, but after assessing them more closely, she sees they could also be feeling suicidal or anxious. “I come down and determine if they are a danger to self, or to others, or can’t take care of themselves outside of the hospital,” she says. “What I see is a lot of drugs – a lot of times fentanyl intoxication. Everybody who does illegal drugs is doing it to cover up another disorder. It’s easier to get drugs or to get help sometimes, but the problem is people die.”

Pets are beneficial for mental wellness.

More than humans at times, pets are beneficial for mental wellness, because they provide stable, consistent companionship, and they are non-judgemental. “When we live in a judgemental world, pets always show up and they are happy to see you. It’s therapy,” says Pinckney. “It is wonderful when you can fly with your pet. All those travel assignments that I did, it was nice to have cats, because they didn’t care where we were as long as dinner wasn’t late.”

If you are experiencing loss of a loved one, be patient with yourself, but also don’t go through it alone.

“Grief takes time,” says Pinkney, adding that she encourages patients to see outside support as well. “The pandemic sprung up therapists on-demand and grief support groups. Take advantage of those.”

Also, put yourself before the disease.

“For example, say, ‘I’m a person that suffers from schizophrenia,’ instead of, ‘I’m schizophrenic,’” says Pinckney. “Putting the person before the disease means you’re a person who has this additional struggle. I have something additional to deal with in my life, but I’m just like everybody else. I am so and so, and this is what I suffer with. You have good days and bad days just like everyone else. There are triggers that make you depressed, but you can learn to take control of them before you react to them.”

Never underestimate the need for professional mental health support.

Visit the site below for some resources if you think you, or a family member, might be experiencing any mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

https://adaa.org/find-help/support/community-resources