Understanding the mental health journey

Mental Health Awareness Month

May 12, 2022

Addressing your mental health can be scary. It can feel even scarier when you're dealing with it alone.

My mental health journey has been an interesting one, and one that I am still exploring. I spent my entire adolescence thinking that constant nausea, sleepless nights and pins and needles were totally normal. But as I grew older, I soon came to realize that there was perhaps more going on internally. 

For me, my exploration of my mental health was peculiar because of how normalized living with severe, undiagnosed mental health conditions was for my family. As the child of two Afghan political refugees, I saw how my parents struggled to resettle in the United States. While they had left a war at home behind, they began fighting a new war within their minds. 

They both eventually sought the help they needed for their trauma, but it wasn’t an easy feat. They had great difficulty in finding a culturally responsive provider who could understand their background and experiences. This is often a deterrent for many people of color, including South Asians, seeking mental health treatment in the U.S. 

This, and the lack of awareness and discussion within Afghan communities around mental health, inhibited my family and I from fully recognizing the anxiety I dealt with since childhood. 

Things changed after I lost my father. 

I hit a new low when I lost a parent at the start of college. However, it was single-handedly the only reason why I pushed myself to dive deeper into my mental health journey. 

Learning how to grieve and process my loss encouraged me to seek help and find a professional opinion I could trust and listen to. I used my university’s resources to find a therapist, and while it took lots of trial and error to find the professional support I wanted, the end result was worth it. I found a provider who communicated effectively with me and treated my experiences as an Afghan-American with respect and dignity. 

My therapist encouraged me to integrate some important self-care practices into my day-to-day life to support the professional help I received. As a result, I joined cultural groups and organizations where I spoke with peers about hurdles they faced as people of color dealing with mental health. The belonging I experienced and the safe, shared spaces we created played a large role in how I addressed my mental health moving forward. I no longer felt alone.

Three years later, my community has only grown. Despite the pandemic taking the world by storm and social distancing making it harder to connect to my old support system, I tried to adapt as much as possible to maintain and curate new connections virtually. 

I started joining virtual events hosted by local nonprofits and organizations, some of which were South-Asian led, to continue having discussions on mental health. 

I also found a new community through my work on the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. The 20 cities and counties I was getting to know were awe-inspiring. The vital role of community was attested by their resilience in fighting against the impacts of the pandemic together. I also developed a mentor through my professional work who encouraged me to continue prioritizing my mental health while navigating the highs and lows of being an early-career public health professional during a pandemic. 

My community is what helped me thrive. It helped me feel supported and develop a sense of belonging. This May, as we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month and its theme, “Together For Mental Health,” know that no one deserves to feel alone in their mental health journey. This is especially important for the many individuals who are fleeing their homes due to violent conflict and being forced to resettle in communities across the United States right now. There are a wide range of resources available to support those who want to continue or start addressing their mental health needs. Below are some resources that really helped my peers and I in our journeys: