JACKSON, Wyo. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a full 31 days dedicated to raising awareness around trauma and its impact on the physical, emotional and mental well-being of children, families and communities.

Last week, Buckrail sat down with local social worker, Hillary Lavino MSW, LCSW. Voted 2022’s Best Mental Health Therapist in Jackson Hole, Lavino talked the hurdles and barriers to beginning a journey of mental health awareness but equally presented solutions and resources to getting on track.

Lavino explained that while most individuals are interested in being proactive about their mental health, therapy isn’t cheap. And as the world emerges from a pandemic mental health professionals are in high demand.

“Everywhere there’s a waitlist, even if you get in it’s expensive,” said Lavino. “It’s also just pricy to live here and people are strapped.”

But cost doesn’t have to be put a stop to beginning a mental health journey.

Free, low cost resources

Many mindfulness and online therapy apps are free of charge, easy to download and hold individuals accountable for staying on top of good mental health practices.

“A silver lining of COVID is that there’s so much more access. There are free support groups that aren’t even based in Jackson. There are also different programs that people have built that you can work through on your own at no cost.”

Here are a handful of Mental Health Apps that can help:

Another free and accessible program is the Mindstrength Challenge, a 30 day challenge that introduces varying mental health themes.

Hurdles

Even with free resources available, Lavino explained that it is an unfortunate truth that in a town like Jackson, mental health can’t be everyone’s top priority when most struggle with basic needs like housing.

“Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you don’t have access to food and housing, then therapy is secondary to that,” said Lavino.

In 2021 a study conducted by Teton County found that the number one social determinant of health in the valley is housing.

“A lot of people bring it up (housing insecurity), it’s just always hanging over people’s heads. People love this community, they want to stay here, but constantly wonder if they can afford to live here,” said Lavino.

What really is mental health?

According to Lavino, the foundation of mental health is the practice of self care fundamentals and self awareness.

“In therapy you can learn skills to diffuse stress and reframe it, but not everyone can access that,” said Lavino.

“It goes back to self awareness and general self care. If you’re stressed out and not taking care of yourself that’s going to impact your mental health. The more that you can slow down and do things that feel good to you (which looks different to everyone) we have more capacity, more focus and more energy.”

Starting a mental health journey

Lavino says it begins with checking in with ourselves and having those conversations that we don’t always want to have. Because well, they can be uncomfortable. Nevertheless these conversations can be had, and they can teach individuals to open the door to hope.

“Mental health awareness in general goes back to the ongoing process of destigmatization.”

Hillary Lavino

“We are so used to avoiding discomfort, because we can just be on our phones instead of sitting with what we feel.”

But in doing the latter, individuals can start the process of destigmatizing mental health and the pressure that too often surrounds it.

Buckrail @ Caroline

Caroline Chapman is a Community News Reporter. She enjoys reading non-fiction, skiing, hiking, and playing piano in her downtime. Her favorite aspect about living in Jackson is the genuine admiration that Wyomingites share for the land and the life that it sustains.