Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month?
Statistics tell us that at least in the United States, approximately one in 17 people live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, with approximately 20 percent of youth aged 13-18 experiencing severe mental disorders in a given year. Approximately 18 percent of American adults live with anxiety disorders (including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and phobias).
Or you could view it another way – 18% of American adults experience difficulty, one way or another. While over-diagnosis appears to be a very real problem, with ‘normal’ negative feelings being more and more ‘medicalised’, the fact remains that many of us experience difficulties every day. The impact of mental ill-health is significant, ranging from lost earnings, hospitalization, chronic medical conditions to suicide.
Obviously, these statistics reflect individuals who have been diagnosed with disorders. But what about the millions of people who have not sought treatment? Who have not been diagnosed? Or who do not fit the medical model of ‘disordered’ but still need and deserve help? These are the people like you, like us, that are going through life. Coping with every day stressors. And sometimes it is just hard to get through the day without feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.
Too many days like that, without adequate support, and we may find ourselves struggling to maintain good mental health.
What is ‘Mental Health’ anyway?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
We like this definition, because of it’s use of the term ‘state of well-being’. Mental health is much more than ‘mental’ or ‘cognitive’ processes. And while mental health is certainly affected by how we think about ourselves and situations, it is not simply a ‘state of thinking.’ Mental health is by definition tied into our thoughts, feelings and actions.
How can we improve our mental health?
There are many ways to improve our mental health. Taking small steps can have amazing payoffs.
1. Take care of your body
A healthy body has a huge impact on our emotions, as well as gives us the strength to deal with the challenges of daily life. Take time each day to move: walk, run, swim, jump rope – anything that gets your body moving and your blood flowing. Make good food choices. Eat a balanced diet.
2. Sleep more
Research tells us that adults – and children, especially teens – do not get enough sleep. Poor sleep increases the risk of developing mental disorders, while a good nights sleep helps increase the ability to handle both mental and emotional stress.
Make and keep connections with people. Loneliness has a direct impact on our mood, and lessens our ability to deal with stress. If you are new to an area, struggle to make friends, or simply like the emotional benefits of being of service to others, volunteering is a wonderful way to connect with others of a like mind, while also giving back to your community.
4. Communicate your feelings
Talking about how you feel is part of the healing process. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with trusted family and/or friends. If they are trustworthy, they will give you good honest feedback, or at the very least will just listen (which is sometimes all we need).
5. Keep a Diary
Much research tells us that simply writing down our thoughts and feelings helps us heal. Just writing down what we feel allows us to acknowledge our feelings, as well as allowing us to process them. Getting them down on paper (or onto a computer screen) also allows us to ‘see’ what we are feeling. Solutions sometimes just become clear. Or, we might find that we are truly ‘stuck’ and need to seek advice from someone else to resolve the issue. Either way it’s movement!
6. Seek Help!
If you are eating well, keeping active, resting well and keeping connected – or are struggling to do any or all of these – and are still feeling as though your anxiety or anxious thoughts, depression or other feelings or thoughts are making all the choices in your life, then it may be time to seek help. Mental health professionals (counsellors, social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists) are all advocates for self-care. They are able to accurately assess your situation, and offer recommendations that will have the most impact to get your life back on track.
You can – and deserve to – feel better!
If we translate the WHO definition of mental health that we mentioned earlier, it simply boils down to this: A person with good mental health is a person with a good sense of self-confidence/self-worth, is able to cope with normal daily stress while being a functioning, productive member of society.
If you or someone you love struggles with mental health issues, know you are not alone. Reach out – there are many hands willing to hold you up until you can stand on your own two feet again.