Barriers to mental health care can make it difficult to prioritize your well-being, but you can boost your wellness with the right tools.
Taking care of your mental health is important, but I’ve found it’s not always easy to do and can even seem impossible at times.
The stigma around mental illness and barriers to quality care can make it difficult for many people to receive or accept a diagnosis, especially if you’re within a marginalized community. As a plus-sized, Black, Queer woman, I’ve experienced some of this firsthand.
Many people may navigate situations where their mental wellness isn’t supported by those who don’t understand why it should be a priority.
But take it from me, everyone needs additional support from time to time — especially when in the throes of a mental health crisis.
Financial barriers, like employment or socioeconomic status, may make mental health care inaccessible. Emotional barriers, like unsympathetic friends or family members, may add to stigma.
Barriers that affect access to mental health care include (but are not limited to):
- time constraints
Centering your mental health when in unsupportive environments doesn’t always require aid from others or disposable income.
Instead, you can draw from your own “wellness toolbox” to prioritize your mental health even when you’re navigating symptoms alone.
A note on wellness tools:
Everyone’s situation and circumstances are unique, so when it comes to mental health, what works well for one person may not be ideal for another. Not all wellness tools are meant to substitute professional mental health care. Instead, your “wellness toolbox” can serve as a resource to draw on when mental health care is difficult to come by.
As the Italian philosopher Voltaire said, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” In other words, it’s perfectly OK to start small when it comes to focusing on your mental health.
Here’s how to get started:
Sometimes, taking care of yourself means saying “no” when you would usually say yes.
Try setting boundaries in places you’re dedicating your energy. This could look like:
- not taking on any additional work at your job
- choosing how to spend your time in a way that’s beneficial to you (i.e., going out with friends or staying in to relax)
- being selective about who you spend time with
Boundaries can also be set around the work you do. When you’re finished working for the day, try to leave the stress of the day behind you, if possible. While this may seem easier said than done, you might consider:
- deep breathing once you exit your building or office, and again before you transition into after-work mode
- using your commute time or a walk around the neighborhood to recenter by listening to music that makes you feel good
- discussing your day to decompress (if that’s helpful for you), and allotting yourself a limited amount of time to do so
Start your day with intention
Do you jump out of bed in the morning and immediately start getting ready for the day? If your answer is yes, you’re in good company.
For me, I have to intentionally set my alarm a bit earlier so I have more time to ground myself before starting work. Having a remote job comes with its benefits, but it also makes it easy to blur the lines between my personal and professional life.
Try to pause before your workday begins to notice how you’re feeling. If your alarm jolts you awake and you have just enough time to throw your clothes on before you open your laptop, that may set the tone for the rest of your day.
You might try giving yourself an extra 5 minutes to just take a beat, do some deep breathing, and set an intention for the day. An intention can look like whatever makes sense to you at the moment, as long as it’s positive and rejects any beliefs that limit you.
Try to ensure your intentions are simple, clear, and set a positive tone for the day ahead. You might consider saying them aloud or writing them down. You could also write them in a journal or in a notepad on your phone.
Ways to start your day with intention
- Set your intentions before you start your day.
- Make yourself a satisfying breakfast when you have the time.
- Play music that moves you during your morning routine.
Develop good sleep hygiene
Think about the time that your day starts and ends. Would you feel better if you didn’t stay up so late scrolling social media or the news and got a little more shuteye? If your answer is yes, this is for you.
Revenge bedtime procrastination is a viral concept that explains when you’re so busy during the day that you stay up late despite being tired. It can be frustrating to feel like you’ve spent the entirety of your day doing things for everyone but yourself.
Self-care may be as simple as making yourself your favorite soup after a long day, or treating yourself to your favorite cup of coffee or tea.
Self-care can also look like:
- eating food that makes you feel your best
- getting fresh air
- moving your body
- drinking plenty of water
- tending to spiritual needs
- taking a warm shower and putting on fresh clothes
Give yourself a break
During working hours, I try to step away for at least 20 minutes to take a lunch break. It’s easy to power through the entire workday without taking a break, especially if you’re in the middle of important tasks.
I’ve learned that waiting until dinner to eat can lead to hitting a wall before I’m done for the day, which cuts into my productivity — the very thing I was aiming to avoid.
Here are a few ways you can give yourself a much-deserved break:
- take a breath at a stoplight or before you exit your car
- check in with yourself throughout the day
- practice deep breathing on your way to the bathroom
- go for a stroll around the block
Journaling can be a wonderful tool for steadying anxious thoughts or making sense of all that’s swirling around in your mind.
“What I love about journaling is that you can say whatever you want, however you want to say it, and your journal will never tell you that you’re wrong,” says Briana Hollis, LCSW, a social worker in Ohio specializing in self-care for women.
“It can be a constant companion to share your thoughts with, and may also allow you to find patterns of thinking that help or hinder your mental health,” Hollis says.
Nancy Landrum, MA, an author and relationship coach, says journaling helped her navigate through a difficult time in her marriage and when her son was dealing with substance misuse.
“In the journal, I could pour out all of my fears, my hurts, and my anger without being judged,” Landrum says. “I learned to comfort that part of me that was hurting, [which] helped me maintain my balance while I was figuring out what the next steps were.”
Consider your connections
A difficult aspect of an unsupportive setting can be negative or unhelpful input from others.
A few years ago, I had a full-time job with benefits that I actively hated. I wasn’t doing the work that I’d been hired to do, and the organization’s practices didn’t align with their purported mission and vision.
Leadership micromanaged the initiatives I led. People of Color were consistently left out of the conversation, overlooked, undervalued, or dismissed, despite that half of their small staff were Black women.
I did my best to bring my concerns to the table but was shut down more than once. I started dreading meetings with my co-workers and supervisors, which took a toll on my mental health.
After deliberation, I opted to leave and work two part-time jobs with no benefits. But my partner at the time was very vocal about their disagreement with my decision.
What I needed was the space to make a choice that wasn’t based on disposable income or health insurance, but what was truly best for me at the time. But it wasn’t an easy decision to make without external support.
Meaningful connections with folks who can identify with your experience may be beneficial to your well-being. In some cases, that may mean rethinking your social circle to help ensure your emotional needs are being met.
Hollis says there’s no shortage of online communities you can connect with that can offer support.
“There are wonderful communities on MeetUp, on Facebook, Instagram, and other websites [and] apps. Finding others who share your interests can increase your mental well-being,” Hollis says.
Take advantage of technology (if you can)
There is an abundance of mental health support available online if you’re currently unable to access care in person.
Consider shifting your social media scrolls to content that may benefit your mental health.
“Many therapists are now posting mental health tips and tricks on platforms like YouTube and TikTok,” says Kassondra Glenn, LMSW, a therapist in New Mexico.
Other options for positive online environments include:
- YouTube videos
- social media accounts run by mental health professionals
Glenn adds that while social media isn’t a substitution for a licensed professional, it can offer new insights and helpful perspectives.
Digital apps and therapies
“Digital therapies are fully automated,” says Juliette McClendon, PhD, Director of Medical Affairs at Big Health. “You don’t have to talk with a professional, and you can learn the skills you need to improve your mental health, such as CBT techniques.”
A note on internet access
Internet access isn’t available to everyone, especially for folks in rural areas. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis and needs help, support and guidance are available. You might consider reaching out to the Crisis Text Line, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or The Trevor Project for help.
Consider traditional therapy
Whether or not you’ve decided to implement any of the above, therapy can also be a helpful option.
If you’re interested in in-person services, McClendon suggests reaching out to community mental health resources, such as clinics within universities that have sliding scale offerings.
In addition, you could also check out Psych Central’s guide to help you find a therapist and mental health support that best suits your individual needs.
Many circumstances are out of our control, whether temporary or permanent. It can feel challenging to stay grounded when you’re navigating environments and situations that may not be the most supportive.
Regardless of the barriers, it’s not easy to be our optimal selves when we aren’t able to center our mental health. But it’s possible to prioritize your well-being in small ways throughout the day.
Some may be more difficult than others — especially if it includes altering your inner circle or changing your eating habits — but plenty of resources are available.
Try to keep in mind that this isn’t anyone else’s journey but your own. Try to take your time to figure out what works best for you, your schedule, and your family.
Taneasha White (she/her), a graduate of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, is a Black, Queer lover of words, inquisition, and community, and has used her role within both literary and organizational spaces to make room for folks who are often cast aside, silenced, or overlooked. In addition to mental health, her other writing, editing, and sensitivity consulting work covered varied topics related to the intersections of Blackness, fatness, & Queerness, activism, and reproductive justice. Taneasha is excited to continue this work of amplifying marginalized voices, centering intersectionality, and destigmatizing mental health.