National Mental Health Month provides an opportunity to bring awareness to the limits of access to mental healthcare, the growing number of people experiencing symptoms, and the importance of advocacy. May is also a time to focus on understanding our own personal mental health. It is estimated that as few as half of those who experience a mental illness receive treatment.
It is impossible to separate mental health from our overall wellbeing. We are individuals who experience illness, injury, stress, and challenges regularly. Many people have strategies for maintaining their physical health, but less often do they have prevention strategies for maintaining mental health. Are you aware of your current mental health and how changes can affect you and those around you?
Years ago, my wife told me I was stressed. She noticed I was occasionally irritable, operating at a fast pace without taking time to rest, and I was not listening as I had before. I did not think I was stressed and assured her I was managing it well. A few weeks later, a co-worker also shared their opinion that I was stressed. Hearing it from more than one person, I had to consider I might be missing something. I started exercising regularly, identified some situations within my control that I could change, and I started discussing stressors with a friend. As I made some transformations, the symptoms of my stress reduced, and I noticed a difference. Before that experience, I was unaware of just how easily stress and my reaction to it could alter my behavior without being perceived. I learned to listen to others because my own perspective could be clouded. Making modifications to my daily routine helped reduce stress and its impact on me, and having an awareness of my mental state prepared me to recognize changes and rely on people I trust to give me feedback.
We are all unique in how we have learned to respond to the challenges of daily life. Being aware of and intentionally taking care of your mental health is more than simply taking a day off or going on vacation. Take the time to plan and act on specific strategies for maintaining a mentally healthy routine. Include regular exercise, get sufficient restful sleep, seek feedback from people you trust, and develop an awareness of your own mental health. Read about and learn to identify symptoms of mental illness. You will face challenges that will create stress, depression, and anxiety, and if you have healthy habits for your own mental health and an awareness of how you are impacted, you will face those challenges and learn from them with less risk.
Times may come when you are faced with stressors that you are unable to manage alone. When you feel you need help, seek support and be open to listening to others who have an objective perspective. In some cases, you may need professional care. There is no shame in that – even mental health professionals get treatment when it is needed. Remember, seeking help for mental illness is no different than receiving medical care for physical health issues. You go to the doctor when you break a bone or have a sore throat, so why not for your mental health too?
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