The month of May is honored as Mental Health Awareness Month here in the USA. In the UK, it is this week of May 10 that fulfils the same objective, and the World Health Organization promotes October 10 as Mental Health Awareness day. Whatever the calendar choices, healthcare strategies to support mental health initiatives and the public acknowledgement of the need for those strategies are increasingly being recognized around the world. That is very welcome and right.

For much of the twentieth century, mental health was often a taboo subject, and relegated to the fringes of public welfare priorities. And as something relegated in importance, it is evident how unjust, unequal and discriminating were our past practices in responding to those with mental health challenges. If access to affordable healthcare remains an issue of democracy, equity, and justice, that access issue has a miserable track record historically in terms of mental health access for minorities, women and the poor.

Today we are making some progress. Now, we increasingly recognize that the health of each of person is a complex interplay of body, mind, and spirit, and that both biology and environment play into our welfare and health, physically and mentally. And we are increasingly aware – and responding – to the fact that mental health is a possibility and a challenge for all persons, and that a just society should provide appropriate resources to equip us as citizens to care for our physical and mental well-being.

In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted not only our physical health, but also our social, emotional, and psychological well-being. Maybe one point of value gleaned from this wretched pandemic is that it has taught us we are all vulnerable to changes in our mental health and vitality. As we graduate our Class of 2021, we must applaud them for facing the additional challenges of this pandemic – educational, physical, social, and psychological. The physical and mental health of students is critical to their success, and we congratulate them on maintaining sufficient focus on their health to be able to succeed educationally.

Going forward at MGA we are making advances in supporting our students’ mental health, so that future generations can walk across the Commencement stage like the Class of 2021. For example, the new BeWell@MGA program offers students 24-7 emotional and mental health support, which means that no one need wait until business hours to talk to someone. This care is coordinated with the Office of Counseling Services, where our team stands ready to offer support and guidance for students. Additionally, the Division of Student Affairs has partnered with the JED Foundation to develop a custom framework for MGA to enhance student mental health and provide suicide and substance-abuse prevention strategies.

For employees, the University System of Georgia offers a number of mental health services, from help and advice via the USG Well-Being initiative to LiveHealth online psychology services.

Starting this summer, mental health intervention training (QPR) will be available for those who wish to participate. Later this summer and fall, interactive training (Kogito) will allow members of the campus community to increase their knowledge about mental health, identify warning signs, and better lead conversations with people in distress.

During this month, we join a movement to raise awareness of the importance of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. I encourage you to reflect on how you are coping, and If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. I also urge you to embody our core value of stewardship and check in with one another to ask: “How are you doing?” If you can offer help to someone else, offer it. And – above all – take time to be kind to yourself and to one another.

Be well – in body and mind,