Mental health impacts every part of our lives from levels of success to social interactions and to physical health. Feeling well makes it easier to respond to the demands and stresses of everyday life. Having a healthy balance is important to feeling confident, capable, and happy.
According to the CDC, mental health is a state of well-being in which a person realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community.
Mental health is something we all deal with. Mental health conditions are nobody’s fault, can happen to anyone, and are not a sign of weakness. According to Mental Health America, about one in five American adults experience a mental health issue, so chances are you probably know someone who has dealt with or is dealing with it.
Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, are common, real, and treatable. They are not a result of personal weakness or choice but a combination of biological and environmental factors.
Some common warning signs of mental health conditions are:
• Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks.
• Seriously trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so.
• Severe out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others.
• Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart , physical discomfort or fast breathing.
• Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.
• Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits (e.g. waking up early and acting agitated).
While not a cure for mental illness, there are certain things we can do to try to improve our overall happiness in life.
• Practice gratitude. Try to take some time each day to think about or list a few things that make you grateful. This helps shift you away from bitterness and despair, and promotes happiness.
• Forgive others. Holding a grudge and nursing grievances can affect physical as well as mental health.
• Hold onto and take care of friendships. There are few things better than close friendships with people who care about you. Not staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying.
• Engage in meaningful activities. To get more out of life, we need to put more into it. Participate in active leisure that helps you grow as a person.
• Exercise, even for as little as 10 minutes a day. Although 30 minutes is recommended, exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it can be an effective strategy for overcoming sadness, and any exercise is better than none.
• Help others. Helping others or performing acts of kindness can actually help enrich our lives.
• Practice positive thinking. Positive thinking is approaching life's challenges with a positive outlook. It does not mean avoiding or ignoring the bad things, but instead, approaching the not so great things in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, and make the most of potentially bad situations. Findings suggest that positive thinkers are healthier, less stressed, and they also have greater overall well-being.
There is sometimes a stigma that continues to exist for many adults dealing with mental health issues. It’s important to educate yourself and others, so that you can make a difference.
It’s OK to ask for help. People often get better with the many treatment options available. It’s better to get help early, before an issue gets worse. The understanding and support of friends can help those with a mental health condition continue to succeed.
Always take any suicidal warning signs seriously. Take action right away by telling someone you trust or calling the National Suicide Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). For more information, go to http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net .
Larry D. Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.