Every month of the year is associated with different health-related issues, and the months of May and June are no exception.
May was Mental Health Awareness Month, with an emphasis on suicide prevention which, unfortunately, has been in the news due to the losses of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, when discussions about dementia and related issues are encouraged. Also in June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. During May and June, the need for education, conversation, prevention and medical care for these health concerns is reinforced.
During Mental Health Awareness Month, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recognized that many people don’t know how to have a conversation about mental health issues. Subsequently, the foundation developed a program on how to have a conversation with family and friends who may be experiencing mental health issues named #RealConvo.
This problem also applies to other chronic health issues, including dementia and migraines. It is not unusual for friends and loved ones to avoid individuals with these health issues. This avoidance is often due to fear, lack of understanding and not knowing how to address the issue(s) with the individual suffering from the physical and/or mental health disease.
Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month is represented by the hashtags #GOPURPLE and #ENDALZ. The month is a time to recognize the 47 million people who are suffering with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, while also recognizing that individuals and their loved ones experiencing these diseases need more support, including education, public policy and research. Loneliness, life changes, avoidance by others, need for medical support and relationship issues are constants with chronic illnesses.
June is also Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, represented by #MOVEAGAINSTMIGRAINE. The theme “You Are Not Alone” is also applicable to individuals and their families experiencing mental illnesses and dementia-related diseases.
Many people feel that migraines and headaches are chronic illnesses similar to mental health issues and dementia-related diseases. It is important to know that 37 million people are affected and suffer from migraines and headaches each year. This is also a dedicated time for migraine doctors and other health care providers, patient advocates and the migraine community to advocate for migraine recognition and treatment.
Keep in mind that migraines are the third-most prevalent illness in the world affecting men, women and children, and nearly one in four U.S. households have someone who experiences migraines. About 90 percent of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraines. Migraines, headaches, mental illness and dementia are disabling diseases that are also associated with large costs to employers and have a major impact on the quality of life for both the sufferer and their families.
It is helpful to have suggestions of what you can do if you are experiencing chronic illness or are a friend or loved one of someone who is.
- Communication is important for both parties. It is helpful for both to express their needs and concerns. Both parties are affected by the chronic illness, and many people feel uncomfortable letting others know how they feel and what changes or help they need in their lives.
- Learn about the illness. Knowledge is power and can help you and your loved one understand the illness and learn ways to help when symptoms occur.
- Become an advocate for yourself or loved one during medical visits with physicians or specialists.
- Learn how to explain the presence of the illness to friends and family. Many people avoid asking questions due to simply not knowing what to say.
- Realize that the illness may be a loss for you and the loved ones in your life. Both parties should acknowledge the loss. It may be helpful to receive guidance from a trained professional who can help you navigate the changes and let you express your feelings.
- Look for activities that can help you and your loved ones find enjoyment in life even though modifications may be needed.
- Acknowledge people in your life who will listen to how you feel even during bad days.
- Maintain your roles in life even though there may need to be modifications. It is also important for your loved ones to recognize your contribution to their lives and not feel that they are helping you by assuming your previous responsibilities and contributions.
- Don’t blame yourself for having a chronic illness or for how your loved one may be affected by changes in your life.
- Realize you are not alone, and that there are other people who are experiencing a chronic illness.
- Support groups may be helpful for the individual diagnosed with the illness and/or their loved ones.
Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.