How to Build Your Mental Health First Aid Kit

'Be prepared' applies to much more than our physical condition

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by Jen Cueva |

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Last month I struggled with my mental health more than usual. My anxiety was out of control. I recognized that I needed more help and went to see a psychiatrist my primary care physician had suggested a few times. She ordered a few medications at a low dose.

But I know that mental health, like physical health, requires a multifaceted approach. That’s when I thought of building a mental health first aid kit — you know, like the first aid kits we all have in our homes and vehicles that we often forget about.

Many schools create mental health first aid kits to help students cope with common health crises that may arise at their age. These kits are something we may use daily to improve our mental and emotional health.

But for many of us in rare disease communities, a mental health first aid kit is as essential as a first aid kit for physical care. Patients, caregivers, family members, or friends can benefit from them. Because rare diseases with no cure affect everyone involved, it’d help to find a daily balance with some tools in a mental health first aid kit.

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Let’s build

What types of solutions do we want to add to our kit? As I fill mine, I think about the tools that help me as I work on my mental and emotional health. Because of the shortness of breath caused by my pulmonary hypertension (PH), I may start by adding some deep breathing to my tools. I could also incorporate some light yoga and meditation.

Gratitude

On days when I wake and think, “Why me?,” I use my gratitude journal. This tool can be used as a brain dump to help declutter my thoughts, either on paper or with a digital note-taking app. I find that using both of these resources works best for me.

Don’t forget the sunscreen

Stepping outside and soaking up some vitamin D in the sunshine offers another mental boost. I love the sun and being outdoors. The fresh air and brightness take me to another place. I’m fortunate to live in San Diego, where I can always go outside. If I have extra pep, I’ll do a short walk or ride my e-bike.

Lean on me — and others

I’m grateful for the many kinds of technology that allow me to communicate with my loved ones from afar. Talking to family and friends in person or on the phone also helps boost our mental and emotional health. I don’t know about y’all, but these friends in low places certainly pick me up when I’m down.

Other resources may include support groups, either online or in person. Pulmonary Hypertension News forums, which I co-moderate, are my most used online support group. We offer a safe and supportive environment where those affected by PH can go to share their stories or vent. We are a judgment-free zone and welcome anyone who wants to learn more about PH.

I’ve shared before how a close friend reminds me often to allow myself grace. I’ve noticed it’s not just me; many of us struggle with offering ourselves the same grace we offer others. It’s easier said than done. But as a columnist with pulmonary fibrosis, Sam Kirton, shares in his piece on this topic, “To take care of others, we must take care of ourselves first.” I hang on to this reminder.

At times, we may need professional help. This often involves either a therapist, psychiatrist, or possibly both. It’s never a sign of weakness to ask for help from a professional or from your family and friends. We all need a little help sometimes.

Despite which tools you choose to add to your mental health first aid kit, it should be tailored to you and offer multifaceted approaches. It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of kit, and there are no rules, so have fun with it. Living with PH is far from easy; we all have days when things are going downhill. It’s OK not to be OK. Together, we are stronger.

Which tools will you add to your mental health first aid kit? Leave your ideas in the comments.


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.

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