May is Mental Health Awareness Month — one of the most important health-related months of the year! Established in 1949, Mental Health Awareness month came about to raise awareness on the importance of mental well-being for ourselves, our families, and everyone in our communities. Alongside our physical health, good mental health represents an equally important facet to ensuring our prosperity and happiness.
Why Mental Health is Important
The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these)” and “are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” They note that “mental health is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience and self-esteem” and that it is “key to relationships, personal and emotional well-being and contributing to community or society.”
With work stress, schooling, balancing family life, and an exhausting two years under the COVID-19 pandemic, the issues surrounding mental health and illness have never been more pressing.
Signs of mental health problems festering, according to MentalHealth.gov include: eating and sleeping either too much or too little, feelings of hopelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and declining interest in socializing.
Steps to Improving Mental Health
In light of Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take a look at some ways you can improve your mental health!
While working out and exercise benefit physical health greatly, did you know it has innumerable mental health benefits as well? According to the Association for Applied Sports Psychology, you can experience benefits such as improved mood and self-esteem, alongside decreased stress.
If exercising isn’t your forté, fret not! You don’t have to run a marathon or be an Olympic athlete to experience the positive effects of working out. A simple walk for a few minutes around the block or on the treadmill can do wonders for your mental health.
One of the more challenging but rewarding things to do in maintaining your mental health is eating healthy! It can be difficult given the general fast pace of our lives today and with fast food easily available. Not only does fast food take a toll on your body by not providing proper nutrition, but it can leave you feeling sluggish and unmotivated after the fact.
Luckily, healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive. Grab some fruits, vegetables, complex carbs that provide nutrients and vitamins (think: peas, whole grains, beans), and a protein of your choosing (lean meats like chicken breast and fish) from your local grocery store and you can whip up a healthy meal in no time. Plus, there’s an added satisfaction in knowing you’re consuming something made with your own two hands!
Many Free and Charitable Clinics throughout the country help their neighbors with healthy eating through food pantries, vegetable gardens, cooking classes, and more.
Didn’t check something off your checklist for the day? That’s perfectly fine! Though it may be hard to balance out your life’s priorities, just remember that every day is a new chance to accomplish your goals.
In that, making sure you get enough sleep will certainly benefit you and your mental health in the long run. While the amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, it is recommended that you aim for seven to nine hours of sleep, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Explore a Hobby
Deviating from your normal schedule to learn something new can also provide some serious mental health benefits. For example, learning a new musical instrument and playing your favorite songs can greatly improve your mood and relax your mind. Listening to classical music can help improve your focus. There are so many options for trying out a new hobby, from music to art, writing, gardening, and more.
They often say, “Laughter is the best medicine” — and no statement rings truer than that. Whenever you may feel down, finding a good comedy to sit down to have a laugh with will help boost your spirits once more.
Mayo Clinic even notes the incredible short-term and long-term effects that laughing has. In the short-term, laughter stimulates organs, soothes tension, and also activates and relieves your stress response. In the long-term, laughing can improve your mood and relieve pain. Interestingly enough, laughing can also improve your immune system!
There is often a stigma attached to getting help for mental health issues. Just like going to a medical doctor if you are sick or to the dentist for a toothache, getting professional help for mental health is just as important to your overall well being.
There are many resources available to access mental health services and to get help. If you are insured, you can search for mental health care providers through your network. Many free and charitable clinics and other safety net providers may offer or help connect you with mental health services. There are also many online and app therapy options available for a convenient way to connect with a mental health professional.
If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month
With Mental Health Awareness Month comes a chance for you to increase your awareness and check with your loved ones to see how they’re doing. It can also give you a chance to step back and see how you yourself are doing. Are you eating right? Are you getting enough sleep? Taking stock of your own mental health — be it through your emotions or thinking patterns — and being observant of such can allow you to live a more fruitful, balanced, and healthy life.
If you’re a mental health professional, giving back to your community would most certainly help those around you and ensure a positive environment for all. If you’re interested in volunteering at your local Free or Charitable Clinic, please visit our website and contact us to learn more!