May 31, 2023

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

At CommunityHealth, we believe mental health is for everyone. Mental health is not only relevant to people living with mental illness; we all have dynamic, ever-evolving emotional wellness.

Whether through Health Education workshops or community events, CommunityHealth offers patients the space to strengthen their resilience.

In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month,

we are excited to introduce our new Behavioral Health Counselor, Angelica Solano.

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, Angelica graduated with a Masters of Social Work from our community partner at Loyola University of Chicago.

“Advocating for the Latino community” since high school, she served as a Peer Mentor at the Latino Resource Center, supporting students and their families.

At Family Bridges, she was “a voice for her community” as a facilitator of workshops for parents.

And she collaborated with case managers and social workers at Eerie Neighborhood House, helping DCFS families “break the cycle and break the stigma.”

“I tell my patients that therapy is like if we were going on a road trip, you are the one driving and I am just the guide.” 

For most patients at CommunityHealth, Angelica will be the first counselor they have worked with.

When introducing emotional wellness to patients who are new to therapy, Angelica explains that “mental health is taking care of yourself and taking care of your body.”

She teaches patients Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, focusing on grounding and breathing techniques such as EFT Tapping and butterfly hugs.

Through her integrative, holistic approach, she adapts her treatments to each patients’ specific needs, hoping to integrate art therapy into her practice as someone who heals through painting herself.

Knowing that therapy can help “people feel less lonely,” she believes that Mental Health Awareness Month is about “disrupting the dialogue.”

People without access to care are the ones who need it the most.

Mental illness disproportionately impacts individuals who are living without insurance as well as those experiencing homelessness, incarceration, poverty, and/or unemployment.

CommunityHealth implements screenings for Social Determinants of Health to meet our patients where they are at and to resource map through the barriers they face.

“It starts with yourself.”

Angelica explains that “learning how to cope, manage anxiety and stressors, and practice grounding techniques” is key to building strong mental health.

Self-care practices offer the space to tune into your current state of being, reflect on where you are versus where you desire to be, and organize steps to achieve new identities.

Self-care, self-awareness, and self-acceptance are integral to not only strengthening mental health but also understanding yourself.

According to Angelica, some daily self-care habits to practice are…

  • Gratitude journaling
  • Walking in nature
  • Reframing negative thoughts
  • Meditation-based breathing
  • Exploring your hobbies

However, even with structured daily self-care, overwhelming emotions or feelings of helplessness are inevitable as we build lives worth living.

Just like life, mental health is not linear. On our bad days, we can utilize our external environment to soothe our internal realities.

In times of crisis, Angelica advises patients to use…

  • Hot or cold showers
  • Ice on wrists
  • Breathing techniques like box breathing
  • Fresh air or nature
  • Physical movement
  • Music or sound bowls
  • Time with pets or loved ones
  • Support from a trusted family member, friend, health care provider, or the emergency room

Considering resilience is the basis of mental wellness, healthy habits can make the difference between one bad day and a bad day spiraling into a few bad weeks.

Angelica advises patients to invest in their nutrition, fitness, and sleep to develop a window of tolerance.

To strengthen resilience, Angelica recommends…

  • At least 7 hours of sleep every night
  • At least ten cups of water a day
  • 20 minutes of movement daily
  • Fresh air, sunshine, or nature
  • Daily organization to track what works for you and what doesn’t
  • Mindful meals

Lifestyle changes may be intimidating. But when you break them into values, virtues, and priorities, they feel natural to your energy, easy to complete, and exciting to practice.

For example, to ensure 7 hours of sleep each night, try a bedtime yoga routine or drink tea to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system to relax.

Or to nourish and hydrate your brain, learn a new recipe with friends instead of eating out or plan your grocery list before you shop… and try not to shop while hungry!

And to find the time and energy to exercise, choose to walk to work instead of drive, set alarms to step away from the computer for stretching every few hours, or park further than you need to for extra steps.

CommunityHealth celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month year-round.

As our clinic continues to evolve and expand even in our 30th Year, we are committed to centering the narrative on individuals with lived experience and integrating the Continuum of Care model.

As Angelica “went through what [her] patient is going through, thinking, or feeling,” she strives to “bring awareness that you are not the only one struggling.”

May comes to a close in 2023 but Mental Health Awareness has a home at CommunityHealth everyday.

“Patients expect to be told what to do to fix issues. I usually let them know that therapy is going to be up and down, not black and white. There is a lot that will come up. This time is for you to explore where these thoughts and feelings are coming from to connect the dots. They are the experts of their life. They might already know the answer or discover things in session. Therapy is a safe place to talk about what is going on and explore your feelings and thoughts.

Angelica Solano

Behavioral Health Counselor