So much of my work as a mental health counselor involves educating the clients that I serve about their mental health while providing insights on how they can make changes to improve their quality of life. This can be something like learning a new language. It is not uncommon for me to learn that a client I am serving at any time may not understand what mental health is let alone how to make themselves feel better when things are not going their best. But understanding your mental health and having an insight as to those things that make you “tick” can spell the difference between your successfully navigating a personal struggle or your personal struggle creating impairments in your world.
Mental health includes our psychological, emotional and social well-being, which can impact how we think, feel and act. Being mentally healthy means you can maintain healthy relationships, be productive in school, at work and in other activities in your life. Another important hallmark to mental health is that you can adapt to change, or stress. Because we exist in relationships, our mental health is impacted when our relationships are impacted. And because we experience feelings of sadness or frustration when change occurs, being able to withstand those changes, then, becomes an important part of maintaining good mental health.
When we are not mentally healthy, the ability to be productive and maintain healthy relationships becomes not only difficult but may, when things get bad, become severely impaired. This is when we start to see signs of mental illness.
Mental illness includes all health conditions that create significant changes in thinking, feelings and actions and create distress in work, family and social situations. Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, background or other aspects of cultural identity. Mental illness may occur a result of a life stressor or event, such as the loss of a loved one or after having a child. Additionally, mental illness may be more prevalent than we imagine. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5 percent — experiences mental illness each year.
Being realistic about mental illness and developing varied ways of supporting one’s mental health is essential to maintaining overall good mental health. While some life circumstances are outside of our control, knowing that journaling, for example, helps you to feel better when you are anxious can be a lifeline when dealing with day-to-day stressors. Other ways to support your mental health include:
Developing strong coping skills. These include journaling (as mentioned before), meditation or deep breathing, listening to your favorite music and spending time with friends or family.
Staying connected with others that you trust and sharing your thoughts and feelings with them.
Talking to a licensed counselor or psychologist if you need to. Talking to a counselor or psychologist can provide you with the tools to change your thinking and behaviors, which can lead to better overall mental health.
Helping others if you have the energy to do so. If helping others feels too draining, it is time to talk to a counselor!
Getting enough sleep, eating regularly and staying hydrated. When you notice yourself feeling cranky, ask yourself, “Have I eaten? Did I sleep well last night? Am I thirsty?” Because our mental health and are physical health are interrelated, feeling physically deprived or injured can have an impact on our mental health. With sleep, aim for eight hours of sleep per night and try to go to bed and rise at the same time each day.
I believe that the more aware I am of something, the more empowered I am when dealing with that something. As it relates to mental health and illness, I believe the more informed we are about mental health and mental illness, the more capable we feel when we endure the struggles that can impact our mental health. Having a basic understanding of mental health can not only deepen your appreciation for your own mental health but it can also shed light on how to get yourself back in the game when you are feeling down.