Mental Health and Self-Care: You Can’t Have One without the Other

Observed every year since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has reached millions of people in the United States through the media, local events, and screenings. As the month comes to a close, Ashley Powell reflects on her own mental health journey and the importance of self-care. 

By Ashley Powell

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As a young woman who has struggled with mental health issues, I believe wholeheartedly in bringing attention to a matter that impacts millions at one time or another in their lives. My experiences have taught me that being proactive in maintaining my mental health is a necessity. Self-care is an essential part of my life. It isn’t being selfish; it’s being deliberate and conscious of the fact that I have to take charge of my own wellbeing. I want to share some of the ways that have worked for me.

From a young age, I learned that therapy is important; just like going to the doctor for a checkup. As an adult, I have many days where I do not want to get out of bed. Sometimes I don't. I go to see a therapist every two weeks for maintenance of my mental health. Growing up with an uncle who is a psychiatrist meant I didn’t feel as much stigma about going to therapy, but I still felt some. I know this can be an issue for many people. I might also add that at different points in my life, to deal with healthcare issues, I have been on just about every anti-depressant I have heard of. 

I went to graduate school for my master’s in social work. I was inspired to start the program because I was going to change the world…and changing the world is what I’m doing. I volunteer on local election campaigns and advocate on behalf of important issues including mental health.

I also went to school because I wanted to learn more about mental health. A number of my classmates wanted to be therapists. What surprised me was that many of them had never been to therapy. Aspiring therapists, this is a disservice to your clients! I believe all student therapists and therapists should go to therapy at least a few times a year. I recommend that everyone try it once and see whether or not it's for you.

Graduate school was the first time I learned about the term self-care. Meditation is one of the many ways you can practice self-care since it enables you to go inward and check in with yourself. I highly recommend that you explore drop-in meditation studios in your city, if available.

In Los Angeles we have two studios that I frequent.  One is The Den and the other is Unplug.  I do not have experience with the following studios, but wanted to share some possibilities in other JWI locales: Take Five in Washington, DC; Inscape in New York City; and Chill in Chicago.

Other ways I practice self-care include swimming and Pilates, getting regular massages, spending time with friends and family, since staying connected is an essential part of emotional health at every age, watching TV, and seeing movies. I also love going for walks, especially near Santa Monica beach, and reading or listening to books. Two recent favorites are This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today by Chrissy Metz, and Maria Shriver’s I’ve Been Thinking: Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful Life.

Finally, I leave you with one thought. Self-reflection is important. Ask yourself on a daily basis: How am I doing? Pay attention to the answer to that question and, if necessary, take the steps you need to care for yourself so that in the future your answer will be: “Great!”

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A native of Los Angeles, Ashley is a passionate social justice advocate with a decade of experience in non-profit programming, fundraising and event planning. Currently working on political campaigns, she previously worked in children’s mental health and also serves on the board of a nonprofit that provides summer camp for homeless and underprivileged children. She earned her BA from Occidental College where she was head of Outreach for Hillel and a Master of Social Work and Master of Public Administration from University of Southern California where she worked on the Jewish Caucus. She is excited to write about Jewish women’s issues for the first time!