May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
We know that smoking can kill us. We know the warning signs of stroke and heart attack and we know that seeking timely help when we see these signs can save our life or reduce the impact of a significant health event.
The same principles apply to mental health and mental illness. We know that there are steps we can take to promote mental wellness. We also know that serious mental illness is a brain disease, and similar to heart disease, if we treat it early and well, recovery is possible.
This year marks the 65th year that May is celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Like other public health awareness campaigns, raising awareness concerning mental health and mental illness can change the way we view these issues, improve our recognition of warning signs, decrease the stigma and discrimination often associated with mental illness and link individuals to resources to provide needed care and support.
What can you do to improve your mental health? Many of the same principles of overall health apply to mental health. Regular sleep, healthy diet, limiting or omitting alcohol and recreational drugs, and getting regular exercise are also important to your mental health. Additionally, building a social support network can have a tremendous impact. Individuals who have a low-level of social interaction have been shown to have a reduced lifespan, with an impact roughly equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and as harmful as obesity.
You can take an active role in creating social connections that enliven and sustain you. Healthy communication reduces loneliness and social isolation and creates an opportunity to sort out some of life’s challenges.
While mental wellness is a challenge we should all face, mental illness is more common than you might think. Mental illness is more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease. It often appears for the first time during adolescence and young adulthood. With proper care and treatment between 70 and 90 percent of those with mental illnesses experience a significant reduction of symptoms and an improved quality of life, with more than two-thirds of those affected living productive lives in their communities.
What can you do when the symptoms you or someone you care about are more difficult to manage?
Take action: You might find it helpful to talk to your doctor, clergy person or employee assistance personnel. Early warning signs of a serious mental illness may include changes in sleep patterns, mood, behavior, energy, or perceptions, and increased feelings of hopelessness or loss of interest in life. These are symptoms to act on by contacting your healthcare provider or mental health professional.
Where to get help:
You can make a difference by attending to your mental health, recognizing warning signs and actively seeking care when needed. You can also make a difference by encouraging loved ones to seek care when they exhibit warning signs.
Mary Roy, Licenced Marrriage and Family Therapist., Solano County Health & Social Services, Mental Health Division