What is mental health?
What is mental health?
Mental health usually encompasses many items like physical, psychological, and social well-being. Depending on those three things, it can affect how we think, feel, and act, as well as how we handle stress and our ability to make healthy decisions (CDC Mental Health). Mental health is also something that is always with us and acts fluidly. We can feel very strong in our mental health one day, and then the next we can have a “blah” day and not make the best decisions for ourselves. It is important to not judge ourselves when we have a “blah” day or a day when we don’t make the best decisions for ourselves, but reframe our thinking to look at our growth and how we can continue to move forward- even though we will have a few hiccups along the way. Hiccups, setbacks, regression, all of these things are normal. What we need to focus on is what we do after.
For example, Dak Prescott, the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, has recently had “Ask 4 Help” written on his wrist tape every game to bring awareness to mental health and specifically suicide prevention. He has been open about his brother’s suicide last year and how he asked for help (Ask 4 Help). It is important for people to normalize struggling and to remove the stigma surrounding mental health.
How common are mental health conditions?
Mental health conditions can range from just not feeling like yourself for a moment during a day to having thoughts of self-harm and everywhere in between. It is important to understand that if you are having these feelings, you are not alone and there are people available to talk to and provide help. The National Alliance of Mental Illness reports that 1 in 5 people experience mental illness every year, 1 in 20 experience serious mental illness, 1 in 6 U.S. youth (6-17 years old) experience a mental health disorder each year, and 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24 (NAMI Mental Illness).
What affects our mental health?
Many factors contribute to mental health and mental wellness. Some of these factors include (Mind.org)
- Biological (genetics and brain chemistry)
- Family history of mental health struggles-when we see family members struggling with mental health and how they handle those struggles (see a therapist, medication, drugs/alcohol, suicidal behaviors) we normalize their reactions and learn how to cope with our similar struggles with similar behaviors.
- Life experiences- Trauma, abuse, loss of a loved one, being in physical combat,
- Long term physical health issues
- Insecure housing or financial situation
- Experience of discrimination and/or stigma
- Drugs and alcohol use
Early Warning Signs as to Mental Health Struggles
You may be aware of some of the warning signs when you feel yourself struggling with your mental health, but you may not be aware of all the different possible warning signs. Also, if you are thinking about a friend and/or loved one, you may wonder if they are struggling. Keep in mind, people react differently to their mental health struggles, similar to how colds affect people differently. It is important not to judge, and instead simply be there for them and ask them what they need. With this in mind, here are some of the more common warning signs.
- Eating more than normal or less than normal
- Getting more sleep than normal or less than normal
- Low Energy
- Using drugs/alcohol more than normal
- Mood swings-getting easily upset or agitated
- Difficulty concentrating, struggling with memory, easily confused
- Ruminating or Persistent thoughts that you can’t seem to get rid of
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else
- Physical pain for no apparent reason
- Struggling to perform routine daily activities- get out of bed, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc.
How to get help, or help someone else
If you notice a change in your own mental health or someone you know, and it is not a positive change, there are things you can do. If you are struggling, ask for help. It may be difficult but reaching out is worth it. There are many websites, phone numbers, services, texting services of people who are there for you 24/7.
The suicide prevention hotline has a phone number you can call (1-800-273-8255) that is free, confidential support for people in distress. You can also use this number to chat and it is in English and Spanish and the chat feature is great for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The Trevor Project is a great resource for LGBTQ young people and it is free and available 24/7. You can text “START” to 678-678 to begin a chat with someone, call 1-866-488-7386 to have a conversation with a person, or go to their website to begin a chat.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health website has a free, confidential 24/7 hotline in English and Spanish for individuals and families who are struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse. You can call them at 1-800-622-HELP (4357). This hotline and website also provides referrals to treatment facilities, support groups, and community organizations.
Activities to maintain Mental Wellness/Mental Health
There are many services available to help, however, if you are looking for activities you can do to help maintain a healthy mental health/mental wellness, below are a few ideas. It is important to try different things to find what fits best for you.
- Get plenty of sleep/rest every night
- “Exercise” can have a negative connotation, so instead try to move your body once a day. It can be something as simple as taking a short walk outside, to a more structured workout routine. But moving our bodies is important not just for our mental health, but physical health as well
- Talk to a therapist. There are many options out there. Check out our blog article on how to find the right therapist for you.
- Talk to a friend. Try to find a structured time to go have coffee with a friend and just talk about how life is going right now.
- Surround yourself with people who lift you up and you enjoy spending time with
- Write in a journal
- Meditate (there are so many apps out there that offer free guided meditations to help you get started. Check out Headspace, Calm, or mindfulness).
- Reframe: if you notice you get stuck in a negative thought cycle, try to reframe your thoughts to more positive ones. Ex. “I hate traffic, this is horrible and I hate this drive” to try to change it to “Now I have plenty of time to catch up on my podcasts, make phone calls, listen to music”
- Healthy and balanced food choices. Here is a blog article on how diet can affect our mood and illustrates the importance of the food choices we make.
Remember you are not alone. You are a Virtue.