Mental Health Awareness for ALL
Mental health is truly something that is important for EVERYONE. We tend to unintentionally compartmentalize mental health in its own separate category in healthcare fields. I've seen this happen often when working with people with disabilities where we consider the "primary" area of need to be a motor or communication goal, for example. At the end of the day, those skills can't be built if the individual's mental health is not being served.
On a personal note, as someone with a learning disability and who identifies as being neurodiverse, I know how much my learning disability affects my mental health, and vice versa! My learning disability makes things take a lot longer for me. When I was growing up that meant more time doing school work and less time to spend on my hobbies or hanging out with friends - both of which affected my mental health. In school, my learning disability affected my self-esteem and my confidence in being able to accomplish tasks as compared to my peers.
My mental health also affects my learning disability! When I feel depressed, or if am going through an extra stressful life event, I notice my learning disability gets worse. My processing time is longer, it takes me longer to read and write, and I suffer from even greater cognitive fatigue than usual. And it makes all of these things feel like an endless cycle. I know I am not alone in this. Our favorite, Alex Dacy (AKA @wheelchair_rapunzel) talks about this often on her social media (like in this post about internalized ablism and this one about alcohol use and disability).
So what can we do in our therapeutic spaces to ensure we aren't forgetting about EVERYONE'S mental health?
Just Hang Out and LISTEN
Maybe we don't totally hit our formally written goal one day. Instead, we take the time to just be with the person we are serving. Maybe that is just what they need that day. Someone to talk to. Some time to just chill.
Give our AAC user a chance to just have a conversation and share whats on their mind.
Reset and restructure. Maybe this looks like turning off the lights, grabbing a fidget, chilling on a bean bag, and listening to music.
The Power of a Jam Session
When I worked in acute, inpatient, adult psych I was really taught this lesson. People in the hospital are in such an intense environment of receiving therapy all day. My music therapy groups became a place for free expression and free improvisation, giving patients a chance to process and get what they needed from that time.
Jamming and improvising lets our clients of all ages and diagnoses get what they need from that time. This could be loudly playing a drum or sitting and watching the therapist play, this can give an opportunity to tend to mental health maintenance.
The benefits of making music are countless. In just about all of my sessions at Dynamic Lynks, I intentionally build in time to just make music. Even if just for a couple minutes. It is fun AND can help people connect on a different level.
Being Truly Holistic
When working with out clients, remember to ask yourself:
How is their support system?
What is their access to healthcare, housing, and other resources?
How might their disability affect mental health? and vice versa?
Are they able to access leisure activities? (is all their time spent in therapy? do they have "free time"? do they have leisure actives that are accessible with their disability restrictions?)
Be sure to continually assess and include this as a part of your work!
We can be hyper goal-focused in therapy spaces, but there is value in FUN and CONNECTION when supporting the mental health of all people. Music therapy provides a unique opportunity for fun and connection as a way to maintain mental health within the therapy space. As creative arts therapists, we can be creative and flexible in our session time to help holistically serve all people.
If you want to work with the fantastic Ms. Ava on your mental health, email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free consultation with her!