In one of his daily briefings, Governor Cuomo urged New Yorkers to address mental health amidst the Covid crisis. As an advocate, I have been steadily involved with the mental health field. Aside from my day job as a Local 94 Operating Engineer, on top of my interaction with the recovery field and previously as an overdose responder, I have partnered with different programs as a speaker and motivator to dispel the myths and get rid of the stigmas that surround the topic of mental illness. However, the question remains, what is mental illness?
According to mentalhealth.gov mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental illness is anything that affects the above or challenges our mood, thinking, and behavior.
The clinical list of mental or emotional disorders range from manageable, to problematic, and severe. Although the challenges are highly common, they are rarely discussed and the topic is often avoided. Fortunately, there has been a new push to include wellness programs in the workplace. There are some unions taking on EAP (Emergency Assistance Program) Supervisors. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades have even gone as far as having some of their members become trained in mental health first aid programs to support their fellow members.
Over the last few years, I have been developing empowerment programs and seminars to humanize mental illness. My groups have been arranged to create a sense of emotional awareness as well as provide a safe means to appropriate support. In an effort to put an end to the days of avoidance and to normalize the process of personal recovery and wellness, I have created workshops to end the misperceptions of mental illness and encourage the promotion of personal well-being.
As a union trade, we are organized and held to a high standard. We are trained to update our education and professional development through our training centers. Part of our education is the importance of safety and teamwork. However, teamwork is a responsibility. It is not a luxury. The fact remains that even if we choose to avoid the subject, mental health still needs to be addressed.
At the moment, our Nation is in the process of recovery. Times are hard and unemployment is high. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, tens of millions of people struggle with some form of mental disorder. Now add Covid-19.
Last year, our country lost over 67,000 people to opiate-related deaths and 88,000 died as a result of alcohol-related deaths. On average, 132 Americans die by suicide each day. Imagine the ripple effect from these numbers and how many people this involves. Now add the mounting concerns for our country. Add the sad and tragic losses of loved ones due to Covid-19. The previous numbers of loss due to mental illness were high before the quarantine. Imagine the attention mental health will need to get us up and running again and keep our country Union Strong.
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of IUOE Local 94, as well as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.