May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which means it’s time to talk about a sensitive subject: mental health. Though we’re making strides on becoming more open about our mental health, it’s still a taboo topic for many people.
Your mental health is as important–if not more important–than your physical health. That’s because physical health and mental health are tied to one another. For example, depression has been linked to an increased risk of developing physical problems like diabetes and heart disease. On a similar note, chronic physical illnesses have been linked with an increased risk of mental illness.
When you’re physically ill, you go to the doctor. What about when you don’t feel well mentally?
Let’s put the spotlight on mental health to discuss some strategies to help you be your best you!
It’s Okay to Speak Up
When you have a fever, infection, or any kind of physical illness or malady that won’t go away with over-the-counter treatments, you head to your doctor’s office. After a round of medication, some soup, rest, and fluids, you’re back to tiptop shape.
Wouldn’t it be great if maintaining your mental health was as easy?
According to data in a report from the Mental Health Million Project, more than half of people surveyed didn’t seek professional help when they felt mentally unwell. Their reasons for abstaining from treatment?
More than one-third of participants stated they preferred self-help, another 34% stated they didn’t know where to go or what to do, and 22% said they feared the stigma of being judged.
While it’s great to find productive, therapeutic outlets for stress (like exercise or volunteering), self-medicating with alcohol and other substances can seriously exacerbate–and even worsen–some mental illnesses.
The most important thing you can do for yourself when you don’t feel well mentally?
Whether you talk to a friend, co-worker, complete stranger, or a licensed mental health professional, as long as you’re speaking up about how you feel–and you have an ear to listen–you’re making a great decision.
However, only a licensed professional can help you find the appropriate course of treatment for your unique needs and circumstances. Being honest, open, and approachable about your problems will help you get the best results.
Don’t be afraid of judgment; in the words of Dr. Seuss, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind!”
One of the most important things you can do for both your mental and physical health is to practice self-care. Self-care can not only help you maintain your mental health but even play an important role in recovery and treatment for both mental and physical maladies.
Let’s examine a few ways you can take control of your self care.
Exercise: Getting just 30 minutes of activity a day can be a major boost for your health–and mood! Even if you’re unable to do 30 consecutive minutes, activity adds up, so find time throughout the day to take a walk or get some light-to-moderate exercise.
Diet: What you eat plays a major role in how you feel. Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated can ensure optimal energy and focus levels. Avoid sugar and caffeine, as they can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.
Sleep: Believe it or not, getting enough sleep is a crucial part of feeling your best. Getting a full 8 hours every night will help you feel refreshed and can even help your immune system operate at full capacity.
Find Time For Yourself: Everyone needs something that makes them feel comfortable. Whether you read a book, play a game, or engage in your favorite hobby, as long as you take time for yourself to do what you enjoy, you should feel a boost in your mood!
Stay Positive: This one’s tricky, but if you start to look at things negatively, things can start to snowball. Don’t be afraid to challenge your negative thoughts. Always look for the silver lining and try to put a positive spin on everything!
It’s okay to put yourself first–especially if you’re not feeling your best physically or mentally. Even small amounts of effort in self-care can have major dividends.
When to Seek Help For Your Mental Health
Knowing when to seek help is important. If you’ve tried healthy, productive strategies like talking to a loved one, or improving your diet, sleep, or exercise and are still seeing no progress, it’s time to seek professional assistance.
Similarly, if you experience any of the following symptoms–especially for 2 weeks or more, talk to a professional as soon as you can.
•Appetite or weight changes
•Apathy or lack of motivation
•Troubles with focus or concentration
•Loss of interest
•Inability to perform daily tasks
Don’t wait until your symptoms become overwhelming. Just like a physical illness, the longer you wait to seek treatment, the more potential the illness has to get worse.
If you don’t know where to go, talk to your primary care provider–who can refer you to a mental health professional.
For more tips, check out The National Institute of Mental Health.
One of the most common mental health problems is post-partum depression–affecting roughly 1-in-7 women.
Post-partum depression differs from traditional depression in that the latter does not unrelated to pregnancy and birth. Post-partum depression, or PPD, symptoms usually manifest within the first few days after delivery–though it may be diagnosed up to a year or more after giving birth.
Notably, post-partum depression is not the same thing as “the baby blues,” which usually only last for a few weeks.
Symptoms of “the baby blues” include:
•Sadness or crying
•Problems with focus & concentration
Symptoms of post-partum depression are often more severe, and include:
•Severe mood swings
•Changes in appetite (eating too much or not at all)
•Overwhelming loss of energy & interest
•Prolonged periods of crying
•Feelings of shame or inadequacy
•Restlessness or panic attacks
•Feelings of self-harm, death, suicide, or harming your baby
Left untreated, post-partum depression symptoms can progress for months and get worse.
You may be reluctant to admit your feelings after giving birth, but if you notice any of the above signs or symptoms, make an appointment to talk with your primary care doctor or OB/GYN. If you suspect you may have post-partum depression, don’t wait–seek help immediately.
Break The Taboo of Mental Health!
If someone has a cold, we typically say “I hope you feel better.” But what about when someone has depression?
Mental and physical illnesses don’t discriminate. It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to judge someone else for their mental health.
It can happen to anyone at any time. But if you aren’t afraid to speak up, take time for self care, and provide a helping hand for others, we can all live happier, healthier lives.
Together, we can break the stigma and make mental health a comfortable, open topic for everyone–but it all starts with you making a conscious decision to support mental health.