In the current age of pandemic guidelines and restrictions, it is fair to say that many of us are frequently stressed, anxious, or depressed, for any number of reasons. If you are, you’re not alone! I know I am.
Mental Health vs Mental Illness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health includes a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being and affects how we think, feel, and act. Mental disorders, or mental illnesses, are conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior and can include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating or personality disorders. A person can have poor mental health but not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Similarly, a person with a mental illness might experience times of good physical, mental, and social well-being.
History of Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It was first recognized in 1949 by the Mental Health America (MHA) organization. Each year, MHA chooses a theme to help promote mental health. This year, they are continuing their 2020 theme, Tools 2 Thrive, and continuing to provide tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health for topics like adapting after stress and trauma, dealing with anger and frustration, getting out of looping or intrusive patterns of thought (often negative), and processing big changes.
Stigma Around Mental Health
Even though acknowledgement of mental illnesses and the importance of mental health has improved over the last decade, there is still a negative stigma around the topic. More than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point in their life. They’re actually quite common! You are NOT alone.
Mental disorders should be treated like any physical illness or injury of the body. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg that they’re just stressed or imagining it, would you? Treatment can vary based on which mental illness (or combination of mental illnesses) you have, so talk to your medical provider to discuss your condition and develop a treatment plan.
For those looking to improve your overall mental health, whether you also have a mental illness or not, here are some tips:
Control what you can.
- Lower your exposure risk to viruses and other harmful bacteria by washing your hands thoroughly and regularly and continuing to wear a mask and social distance.
- Limit your media intake if you feel that the news or social media is causing you stress or feelings of anxiety.
- Take care of yourself physically by eating healthy food, sleeping enough, exercising regularly, and participating in hobbies that engage both your body and brain.
Manage anxiety and stress.
- Recognize the signs of mental disorders. Symptoms can vary from person to person.
- If these signs sound familiar to you, Mental Health America has online screening tools for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and more. They’re not a diagnosis, but they can give you an idea if you’re at risk for an illness and might want to reach out to a health professional.
- Build your skills. Mindfulness techniques like meditation, tuning into your feelings, and acceptance of the situation can help lessen anxiety and stress.
- Free mobile apps like Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Calm, Headspace, the Healthy Mind Program, and many others can help you practice and build up these techniques.
- For those without a smartphone, try watching Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation Course, a 24 episode series on Kanopy, LPCPL’s video streaming service that can be accessed if you have a library card. (Download the Kanopy app on your device. For the computer web browser version of Kanopy, use the same link and click the picture of the Kanopy logo at the bottom of the page.)
- Try borrowing one of LPCPL’s yoga kits and start up a new hobby this summer! For those with limited mobility, try watching this Chair Yoga video on Kanopy.
- Create routines. Forming routines in your work and home life can be helpful to soothe and manage anxiety and stress.
- Reach out to your friends and loved ones. Even if you are feeling fine mentally, maybe they aren’t and a kind word or acknowledgement would make a huge difference to them.
- Join a virtual event or online group. Now more than ever, businesses and organizations are hosting virtual events using online video conferencing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need a helping hand every now and then! Consider contacting a therapist, psychiatrist, or other mental health provider.
Hotlines to Know:
When we struggle or things are too much for us to handle, it’s okay to reach out for help. The hotlines listed at the bottom of this article are able to help and provide resources during mental health and mental health-adjacent crises.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 (or your local emergency line) or go to an emergency room for immediate help. Explain that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for someone who is trained for these kinds of situations.