Mind Your Mental Health

Most of us would agree that we are ‘on the other side’ of the pandemic. That does not mean that people will no longer be affected by COVID. It also does not mean that the high volume of people who experienced mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, etc. has diminished. All it takes is ten minutes of watching the news to see that people are struggling with mental health challenges. Some people are still grieving losses experienced during the pandemic. Others are feeling overwhelmed with work, health concerns, relationships, family, and caregiving responsibilities. Experiencing good mental health is one of our greatest assets. It can help us stay focused, overcome obstacles, and have the patience to get along with the people around us, and it helps us to get well and stay well. Alternatively, poor mental health can negatively impact every area of our lives. We can experience physical pain (i.e., stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches), have difficulty sleeping, have low energy and motivation, have difficulty concentrating, become easily annoyed or irritable, experience feelings of sadness, eat too much or not at all, and we may begin to lose self-confidence. 

One positive thing that did result from the pandemic is the fact that people began to open up about their mental health challenges. More people have become willing to talk about their concerns and to be honest in saying that they are not okay. That’s one of the reasons why recognizing this month ─May─ as Mental Health Awareness Month is so important. The recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month began in the United States in 1949 and was started by the Mental Health America organization. It is a time to spread awareness about the signs and symptoms of living with a mental health challenge, educate the public to cultivate a sense of understanding and acceptance, and provide support throughout our communities. This year, Mental Health America asks us to “challenge ourselves to examine our world and how it can affect our overall health. Look around, look within – from your neighborhood to genetics, many factors come into play when it comes to your mental health.”

Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. We all experience changes in mood. We can feel sad or down one day and happy and elated the next. We can all be irritable at times. We understand that every day is not going to be carefree and full of sunshine. That’s life. But a mental health concern can become a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function more days than not. When these feelings last for extended periods of time, they can indicate that something more serious is going on, possibly mental illness. 

Knowing warning signs of mental illness can help determine if you need to speak to a professional (i.e., primary care physician first and then a mental health professional). One or two of the symptoms alone can’t predict a mental illness. However, if a person is experiencing several issues at one time and the symptoms are causing serious problems with their ability to study, work, or relate to others effectively, the individual may need further evaluation. For many people, getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step in a treatment plan. However, unlike many physical illnesses such as diabetes or cancer, there is no medical test that can accurately diagnose mental illness. A mental health professional can assess symptoms and make a diagnosis. After diagnosis, a health care provider can help develop a treatment plan that could include medication, therapy, or lifestyle changes. 

Yes, the pandemic may be over. However, the mental health challenges that people faced before and since its start, have not necessarily disappeared. The struggles were and continue to be real. The honesty with which people have been willing to openly discuss their concerns has been refreshing and has gone a long way in helping to remove the stigma of mental illness. This month of Mental Health Awareness is an opportunity to examine our overall well-being. If you find that you need help, it’s okay to ask for it. 

Resources

FindTreatment.gov: The confidential and anonymous resource for people seeking treatment for mental and substance use disorders in the U.S. and its territories.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, as well as best practices for professionals in the U.S.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: A national organization that provides advocacy, education, support, and public awareness so all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives. Find services and support available in your community.

Mental Health America

American Psychiatric Association: Mental Health Topics for Patients and Families 

American Hospital Association: How Respectful Dialogue Can Reduce Mental Health Stigma

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed a conversation guide (PDF) to support a friend or loved one by providing them with access to services for mental health or substance use. This guide helps start conversations respectfully and helps guide the friend or loved one to resources that could help.