Cold, dreary days perfect time for mental health PSA

This time of year always seems like a good time for a mental health PSA. It can start to feel like there's no end in sight to the cold and dreary days, leaving many feeling low in mood.

Moving out of the pandemic, I've noticed the silver lining is a better understanding and acceptance of mental health challenges. As we hopefully continue to progress in this direction, the following can be helpful to keep in mind:

• Things aren't always as they look.

Despite my professional understanding of mental health, I still found myself taken off guard by the most recent celebrity death by suicide, Steven 'tWitch' Boss. It was a strong reminder of how one presents on the outside can be deeply incongruent with how one feels on the inside. Also of note is that some mental health symptoms don't necessarily present in the traditional way. For instance, a consistently angry or grumpy teen might possibly be a depressed teen.

• Asking won't make it worse.

Inquiring whether a family member, friend or co-worker is all right won't make it worse. In fact, it can make a difference. Often times people who are struggling with mental health challenges can feel very alone. Gently asking demonstrates that you care.

• Don't feel like you have to have all of the answers.

Asking someone how they're doing doesn't mean you have to make it better. One of the most helpful things we can do in the presence of someone who shares their troubles is to listen. Empathize with how difficult it must be to feel that way.

• Be proactive vs. reactive

If there's concern something is amiss, it's useful to seek/offer professional resources instead of trying to sort through it on your own or waiting to seek help until things reach crisis level. That's what mental health professionals are for. With more awareness of mental health, many providers currently have waiting lists, so being proactive is important. It will never hurt to seek help and learn nothing serious is going on rather than to not seek help and experience a crisis.

If you or someone you know are experiencing mental health challenges, these helpful resources are available:

• 988 - In July of 2022, Illinois launched the mental health version of 911. Counselors are available 24/7 for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis.

• Illinois Warm Line - (866) 359-7953 available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday (call 988 after hours). Different than a hotline, a "warm line" provides support before it becomes a crisis. The Illinois Mental Health Collaborative offers peer-to-peer support for anyone who just needs to talk with someone.

• The Parent List - Housed on Hinsdale Central's PTO website, this resource features local mental health, educational and health providers that parents in our community have had a positive experience with. The Parent List relies on consumer feedback and is in high need of new reviews to keep this resource current. Please help the next parent using this list by visiting the website for the anonymous, password protected five-minute process.

Our brain is a sophisticated and complex organ that requires caretaking just as any other part of our body. It is my sincere hope that we continue shifting toward the belief that a mental health challenge should be treated just as a medical problem would be.

- Alisa Messana of Hinsdale is a licensed clinical social worker and mental health consultant.