Mental Health Awareness Month

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Here at keepinspiring.me, we can’t believe May is already upon us! This is the perfect month to make a conscious effort to slow down, appreciate your progress, check in with how you’re doing, and enjoy a few quiet moments before the coming of summer.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why, since 1949, Mental Health America and the National Alliance of Mental Illness began observing Mental Health Awareness Month during the month of May.

Each year in mid-March, Mental Health America releases a toolkit of materials to guide preparation for outreach activities in May. Throughout the course of the month, Mental Health America, its affiliates, and other organizations interested in mental health conduct a number of activities which are based on a different theme each year.

The theme for 2020 is #Tools2Thrive.

Though 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges in life that can have an enormous impact on their mental health. This year’s #Tools2Thrive campaign aims to provide practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase resiliency, regardless of the situations they are dealing with.

A brunette woman in a white top sitting with her head on her knees on a pink surface

The Picture of Mental Health

Approximately one in five adults in the United States – that works out as approximately 43.8 million people, or 18.5% of the population – experiences a mental illness in a given year. What’s more, approximately one in five young people aged between 13–18 (or 21.4%) experiences a severe mental health disorder at some point during their lifetime. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.

Mental illness is not prejudiced. Mental health disorders affect men and women of all ages, races and social classes.

So what do we mean when we talk about our mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.

It also helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Over the course of a lifetime, mental health problems can dramatically impact your thinking, mood, and behavior.

There are many factors that can contribute to your mental health:

  1. Biological factors: such as genes and brain chemistry
  2. Life experiences: including trauma and abuse of any kind
  3. Family history: if your parents, siblings, grandparents or other relations have mental health issues

It’s important to remember that a family history of mental illness is not a guarantee that the same thing will happen to you. While some people are genetically predisposed, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that leading a healthy lifestyle, avoiding stress, and making time to look after yourself can make a huge difference to your mental health and outlook.

A guy in a checked shirt embracing his daughter and sitting on a step
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not!” – Dr Seuss – The Lorax

Know the Signs

Mental health issues are, by their very nature, sneaky and deceptive.

You might start to believe things that aren’t true, react in different ways, and close yourself off from those around you.

Knowing the warning signs – especially at an early stage – can be incredibly valuable, whether it’s you or someone you know who are living with mental health problems.

Part of Mental Health Awareness Month is getting educated on what to look for so that you can reach out for help or to help someone else. Here are some of the feelings and behaviors that can be a sign of a problem:

  • eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • having no, or very little, energy
  • having unexplained aches and pains
  • pulling away from friends and social activities you might usually enjoy
  • smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • obsessive behaviors, about cleanliness, health, or other things
  • feeling numb, or unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • experiencing mood swings that affect your relationships with family, friends, and partner
  • having persistent bad thoughts, especially those about harming or hurting yourself or others
  • a loss of interest in things you otherwise enjoy
  • a drop in performance, or an inability to cope with daily tasks.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it’s so important to remember that everyone is different. Post-natal depression and eating disorders have their own sets of circumstances and warning signs.

Whatever the signs, sometimes even offering to talk or help someone is the essential first step they need to start getting the right help.

Blue skies at sunset over a pebble-covered beach with palm trees
“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi

Make a Change

The goal of Mental Health America, NAMI and other organizations like them – and of Mental Health Awareness month – is to spread the word that mental health is something that everyone should care about. At keepinspiring.me, we fully support these organizations and want to spread the message of Mental Health Awareness month however we can. We also want to inspire and encourage you on your journey to Mental Wellness!

Adopting healthy habits can be vital in the fight against mental health issues. In conjunction with Mental Health America, Psychology Today suggests the following lifestyle changes to ensure a healthy mind and a healthy body:

1. Establish a good sleep routine.

Sleeping for 8 hours per night is the ideal, but for most of us – well, it’s just a dream! Sleep is essential for repairing the body and relaxing the mind. Many people with mental health issues find sleeping difficult, as switching off when you feel anxious or upset can be really hard. Setting a good sleep routine – waking at the same time every morning, and going to bed at the same time each night – is essential for avoiding or curing insomnia.

2. Engage in mindfulness and meditation, daily

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. It’s a crucial part of maintaining good mental health, and it’s easy to start living more mindfully today.

3. Start a journal.

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be enormously helpful for anyone struggling with mental health issues, and is a valuable part of counseling and talk therapy. Whether you write down your dreams, hopes, or what happened during your day, you’ll be helping to both quiet your mind and process your thoughts.

4. Practice self-care

Most of us are so busy looking after other people’s needs – whether at work or at home – that we are often the first person we neglect. Making sure that we engage with our own needs – from drinking enough water and exercising regularly, to pampering ourselves, and trying new things – is one of the best ways to stay healthy in body and mind.

5. Eat well

Eating a well balanced diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods, lean meats, fish, and unsaturated fats is crucial for staying healthy. However, we believe that everything – including sugars, carbs, and fats – is healthy when eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Depriving yourself of certain food groups or treats can be mentally draining – and is a process that actively encourages depressive, shameful, or harmful thoughts. Take the opportunity to get organized and create a meal plan. It’ll keep you on track and ensure that you have healthy food and snacks – especially when you don’t feel like going to the store.

6. Take a break from social media.

More and more evidence is mounting to suggest that social media can be harmful to your mental health. Negative comparisons, cyber bullying, and the effects of blue light on your brain (especially before sleep) are just some of the reasons you should take a step back from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

7. Start exercising.

There are many things you can do to be more active, whatever your fitness level. Getting out and walking more is a great start, or challenge yourself to take up jogging or running.

Surprise yourself by doing something new – something you never imagined you could do! And extra points for trying yoga, which helps you to beat stress, breathe better, and encourages mindfulness.

8. Talk positively to yourself and others.

This can be incredibly difficult when someone – whether yourself or someone else – is in the throes of mental illness. But engaging with others and being kind to yourself is vital to recovery.

Choose a handful of positive mantras and affirmations and repeat them to yourself each day. It might feel silly to start with, but soon you’ll see the benefit of starting and ending each day with a kind word.

9. Seek answers.

It can be tempting to think, “well, maybe I’m just not meant to be happy” – but it’s important not to let this negative inner voice give in.

Whether you’ve been struggling with your emotions after losing someone close to you, sleep issues are wreaking havoc on your schedule, or you don’t know why you feel the way you do – reach out to someone for help.

It’s so important that you know you aren’t alone, and there are things you can do and places you can turn to for the help you need to feel happy again.

A man gazing into the distance during for Mental Health Awareness Month
“Promise me you’ll always remember – you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter thank you think.” – Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

What Can I Do?

If you’d like to get involved with Mental Health Awareness Month this May, you can download a toolkit from Mental Health America. You might even consider raising vital funds and encouraging awareness of mental health issues in your workplace or social group.

Most importantly, take the time this month to become aware of how you’re feeling.

Know what is normal and what isn’t, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. By the same token, be willing to reach out to others if you notice any warning signs, whether you provide a listening ear or encourage them to speak to someone else if they are struggling.

Mental health issues affect every demographic in the world. It’s time we started talking about how we feel without worry or shame so that we can start living happier, healthier lives.

Two girls with backpacks hold their arms in the air on a sunny mountain top
“I’m not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott
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Natalie Seale

Natalie Seale is a writer, researcher, and editor for keepinspiring.me. She holds an MA, MSc, and PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh, and has started two businesses since 2011. Natalie is an avid reader, a keen traveller, and enjoys cooking and walking with her English Spaniel. Her posts focus on inspiring others to live healthy, happy, and active lives.