Kiaya Sechrest | Outreach Coordinator

Growing up, my mom taught me the importance of my mental health.  As early as fifth grade, I can remember her letting me stay home from school for what she called “Mental Health Days.” Sometimes this meant I was allowed to stay home in bed to read a book all day. Other times she would take off work with me, and we would drive to the next town over for lunch and window shopping.

As a college student, I no longer have the ability to check out for an entire day. However, this idea of letting oneself have time to rest is still a valuable lesson to learn. Mental health is an ongoing process for everyone throughout their lives. While therapy and medication can be vital in this journey, many in the present day turn to a more “self-help” route when it comes to their everyday mindset and outlook. Listening to one’s own mind and body is important in order to learn how to deal with stress and life changes in a healthful way.

As a person with ovaries, it is sometimes difficult to have my feelings taken seriously. My own mother, who was adamant about taking time for myself, would still say occasionally that my unhappiness or restlessness was due to hormones or “PMSing.” Yet, there were times that I knew what I was feeling was more than these things, and there was something about it that distinctively made me think it was due to a mental health issue. Many females can feel the devastating effects of  a history filled with too-often sexist treatment regarding mental health issues. They may be seen as “dramatic,” and those around them may not realize the seriousness of what is going on inside their head. Because of this, it took me until recently to fully understand that I have a mental health issue and decide how I want to help cope with it while moving forward.

Self-care has become important to me personally, however, many members of marginalized groups have publicly adopted it in recent years. Many in the LGBTQIA+ community push for self-care, especially around the holidays. This time of year can be difficult for people who may be forced to spend time with family members who are not accepting or who face familial estrangement. The internet is filled with articles listing ways for LGBTQIA+ members to spend time on themselves for their own sake, as well as even some specifically for those who are not out. The LGBTQIA+ community may have taken so strongly to self-care because of activist organizations, such as PFLAG and PERSAD, that have a heavy focus on the mental health of community members and want to establish easier access to resources for help.

Audre Lorde’s famous words from 1988, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” show how self-care began developing as a true intersectional feminist practice. For minorities, especially Black women, self-care has become a political act that forces others to recognize that they are deserving of time and care. Mysia Anderson, a Black women attending Stanford, wrote about her discovery of self-care as a form of resistance. She writes: “Living and surviving in the midst of scrutiny and violence is a radical act.” It can be used to protect oneself, yet it can also be used to send a message, that the members of these communities will continue to love and care for themselves even if society tells them not to.

Everyone can benefit from self-care, and I personally have found that some of the smallest forms of it can somehow help the most. Now, instead of Mental Health Days, I allow myself an hour, or even a few hours, to do something that I enjoy or makes me feel good. Sometimes this is blatant laziness, like a Netflix binge, but other times it can be something really valuable, like making time to connect with friends even when I have a lot of assignments due. This specifically has brought me closer to them even over the last two months and helps me feel as if I have a strong community of people in my life who I know I can reach out to when my mood is low or when life is beating me down. I have realized that for me, a mixture of self-care “alone time” as well as building a community of support is what keeps my mental health in balance.

My mother taught me about taking time for myself because of her own experiences. She recognized that, in her own life, self-care was necessary to live healthily and successfully. I am lucky enough to have a parent who takes mental health as seriously as physical health, and if it weren’t for her than I wouldn’t know about it myself. So, it seems important that in addition to teaching ourselves about self-care, we also need to teach those around us. We should encourage our peers to practice self-care, both as a way to take care of themselves, and as a form of resistance against unfortunate societal norms.