We’ve all been through a lot this year. And one issue that continues to make headlines? Our mental health. Specifically, the effect of COVID-19 and all that comes with it – vaccinations, quarantining, working from home, disrupted schedules, lack of social interaction, and more.
Now is a good time to pause and reflect. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so we want to make sure we recognize a difficult truth: Nearly one in five Americans lives with a mental health condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
That includes any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder such as:
- Mood disorders, including bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
- Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia
- Eating disorders
- Substance -use disorders
A recent statement by President Joe Biden on Mental Health Awareness Month mentions isolation, sickness, grief, and job loss as contributing factors on declining mental health as well as lack of access to mental health services during difficult times.
But it’s important to remember that you are not alone.
In fact, that is the theme of this year’s awareness month from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Experts stress that now is the time to focus on healing, reaching out, and connecting in safe ways by acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay.
Mental illness is very common, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and 1 in 5 people experience some form of it over the course of their lifetime. It’s important to get treated by a doctor, because without good mental health, your ability to think, feel, and act will all be affected. People who have poor mental health also have less tolerance for stress and have a harder time relating to others.
Because mental health struggles can be isolating and those who face them can feel judged or stigmatized, it can be difficult for those who experience problems like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or trauma to seek the help they need to heal. But there is hope and you can get the treatment you need for a brighter tomorrow.
Ways You Can Practice Self-Care for Better Mental Health
Practicing good self-care is one way to prioritize your mental wellbeing. Self-care is the practice of pampering your own mental, physical, or emotional health. Just about anything can be self-care if it promotes those things, from scheduling regular doctor’s checkups that you need to making time for your hobbies or taking a long, hot bath.
When you practice self-care, you can ease any feelings of anxiety or depression, which are two of the most common symptoms of mental illness. Some of the best ways to engage in self-care include engaging in regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and participating in activities that bring you joy. All of these activities can stave off feelings of loneliness, isolation, and sadness.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. are living with mental illness. About half of the estimated 52.9 million individuals living with mental health conditions also suffer from substance use disorders of drugs and alcohol. This epidemic hit an all-time high last year as the number of drug overdose-related deaths was over 107,622, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unfortunately, many people may feel uncomfortable seeking help due to the stigma surrounding behavioral health issues. By coming together to destigmatize mental illness and showing support for those living with behavioral health issues, we can help millions of people get the treatment they deserve.
Some initiatives aiming to ease the behavioral health crisis include increased research for substance use prevention, better access to treatment, and improved crisis care. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) supports research to find ways to prevent substance use. As awareness for mental health increases, the availability of treatment options expands. And the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number, 988, will roll out in July 2022 to connect individuals in emergency situations with life-saving mental health care.
These are only a handful of large initiatives to make mental health treatment more accessible. We, as providers and individuals, can make a great impact on this movement by helping our own loved ones get the behavioral health treatment they need.
Some ways we can support and advocate for patients and even our loved ones struggling with their mental health include:
- Express your concern in a gentle manner. Talking about mental health can be emotional. Being gentle can keep an individual comfortable during a sensitive conversation.
- Be a good listener. Ask the individual questions and listen carefully when they tell their story.
- Tell them there are people who care about them. Letting the individual know their loved ones care about them and their healing can go a long way.
- Explain that you can get them help. Many people may feel uncomfortable in taking the first step to find treatment. Offering up resources to find treatment can be life-changing during this process.
- Be aware of triggers. Individuals with behavioral health issues such as substance use disorders or anxiety may have certain triggers that impact their actions and emotions deeply. Being mindful of these triggers can support them during treatment.
- Watch for behavioral changes. If an individual is exhibiting signs of anxiety, depression, anger, lethargy, or social isolation, check up on them to see if they need help.
- Check in on them during recovery. Behavioral health treatment can take time, so it’s important to let the individual know they have your support throughout the entire journey.
Mental Health Awareness Month is a time for us to reflect on the behavioral health crisis. By working together, we can do our part in improving access to treatment and destigmatizing mental illness.
We believe that a healthy mind is an inherent part of a healthy body and that we must start seeing our physical and mental health equally. Eliminating the shame, fear, and discrimination associated with mental health is an important step in empowering individuals to get the help they need.
Throughout the month, we want to foster more open conversations about mental health through community events, sharing information, and highlighting resources available to support those living with mental illness.