by Teresa Faulkner, LCSW •
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Why should this be important to you?
Mental health has been a touchy subject for some, too often leaving people to suffer in silence. To reduce the unnecessary (and unfortunate) stigma sometimes associated with mental illness and elevate awareness of the importance of sound mental health and supporting research, the Mental Health America Organization selected May some 74 years ago to help people understand important issues about mental health.
Professionals understand that misconceptions and stigma about mental health issues often erect unnecessary barriers to effective treatment. This recognition is important. Whether or not someone personally suffers with a mental health issue, Mental Health Awareness Month helps to recognize the ways mental illness impacts lives, educates people about available services, and highlights ways to advocate.
Here’s an important point to remember this month: self-care is essential for good mental health. When you take care of your mental health, your physical and overall health improves. You become better equipped to deal with life stressors and you can become more resilient. As you learn how to take of yourself, it becomes easier to develop healthy ways to manage things that previously created stress in your life.
With that as a backdrop, here are just a few suggested strategies that you can use to maintain positive mental health. The key is to overcome inertia and actually try them, seeing what works best for you. Then put them into regular practice!
Now is the time to get outside. Spending time outside and enjoying nature is linked to several positive outcomes that promote sound mental health. Even taking a simple regular walk, reading a book or magazine outside in your backyard, or enjoying a nearby park often results in better mood, improved focus, lower stress, and a better sense of connection. You don’t have to travel to a national park (although that would be fun) to connect with nature.
Try some breathing exercises. Taking a moment to stop and breathe can reduce stress, help relax tense muscles, and improve energy levels. While sitting straight up with your feet flat on the floor, try slowly breathing in through your nose and then exhaling through your mouth. Inhale for five seconds and exhale for the same time period. Repeat four-six times. For additional information, check out the Team Peace video about breathing on the SICHC YouTube channel.
Spend time with your pets. Owning a pet can help to reduce stress and boost endorphins, an important hormone that your brain produces to help relieve pain, reduce stress, and elevate mood. Plus, pet owners may socialize, connect with other pet owners, or be outside more often – all great ways to improve or maintain positive mental health.
Create comfort in your space. Clutter can inadvertently reinforce out-of-control feelings of anxiety. Feeling a little overwhelmed? You can take small steps to reduce clutter and create a more positive environment, no matter what your income level or status may be. Sunlight through opened curtains or windows can brighten a space, as can a repositioned light. Move some furniture around and create a space for you with photos of loved ones or pictures of a favorite place.
Get connected. Humans are social beings and thrive on the connection, support, love, and belonging that friends, family, and our communities bring to us. Studies show that people who feel connected to others are less likely to feel anxiety or sadness, and often feel increased happiness. “Doomscrolling” though our cell phones is not a typical health activity, but you can use your internet connection to find people getting together to do things that you may like. Google your hometown to find activities or visit sites like Discover Southern Indiana Discover Southern Indiana for ideas. From local church activities to area sports games to music performances and social events, there’s plenty to choose from. It just takes a little effort (and perhaps a little courage) to step out.
Practice self-gratitude. Start a gratitude journal and celebrate the positive qualities about yourself, what you have, and the life around you. Positive thinking promotes positive well-being.
When to seek the benefits of professional help. When powerful emotions and thoughts threaten to overwhelm, it can be challenging to determine whether you are experiencing a natural response to a stressful life event or dealing with a more serious mental health issue. A professional can accurately evaluate the severity of mental health symptoms and determine whether further treatment may be beneficial or necessary.
Here are some signs to look out for that may indicate that professional and confidential help can benefit you:
If you’re experiencing the above, contact your provider or a professional counselor. The good news is that the conditions producing these symptoms are treatable!
Here’s a very important point: if you’re experiencing painful thoughts that include wanting to harm yourself, not wanting to live anymore, that you would be better off dead, or wanting to harm someone else, contact a professional immediately, or call 988.
For additional resources, there are many good online confidential screenings that can provide you information, however (nothing takes the place of a licensed mental health professional). The Mental Health American website offers online tests for depression, anxiety, addictions, and more https://screening.mhanational.org/.
If you have any questions or concerns, you can always check with your provider. The good news is that even if you are experiencing mental health issues, improvement and recovery are possible and available to you.
And remember, while May is mental health month, the truth is that every day is a time to take care of your mental health, practice good self-care, and raise awareness to reduce stigma – beginning today!