Mental health issues have long lived in the shadows of shame.
Stigmatized for decades, health care providers, news outlets and the public at large are beginning to acknowledge the validity of mental illness and treat it accordingly.
A mental health issue can be any condition that affects your mood and behavior. Examples include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction and eating disorders. You’d be hard-pressed to find any human being who doesn’t have sadness or anxiety from time to time, but it becomes serious when the symptoms compromise your ability to function in your daily life.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness; for one in 25, it’s a serious condition that affects major life activities. Eight of every 10 people with a mental illness don’t seek help because of embarrassment. It is the leading cause of disability in the United States, and untreated mental health conditions cost $200 billion in lost earnings each year because of decreased work performance and productivity.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Started by Mental Health America in 1949, this campaign aims to educate the public about mental illness and ways to seek services.
I have taken steps to address my own anxiety and depression, and I try to say if I am feeling overwhelmed by a situation. It’s been empowering for me to tell a friend, “I can’t go out tonight because I’m feeling anxious and would like some time to myself.”
Speaking with a trained professional to address trauma or relationship issues can have incredibly positive long-term effects. I am also quick to tell people how activities, like working out, practicing yoga, eating quality food and volunteering for a cause I believe in, have helped my depression. Self-care isn’t just about looking a certain way or keeping your cholesterol low. How you process your emotions and interact with yourself and those around you have a profound impact on your physical health. It’s all connected. My yoga instructor often says to me, “Talk to yourself how you’d talk to someone you love.” It was shocking to recognize that my internal dialogue was so negative.
Having pets is also a great way to cope with mental illness. Whether you have two cats, a hedgehog or four dogs, animals provide unconditional love and support; alleviate loneliness; and increase oxytocin levels in the human brain. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a 2016 study found that pets provide a sense of security and routine that provided emotional and social support. Studies have also shown that pets are facilitators of getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks.
I encourage everyone reading this to think honestly about your mental health. Seek help if you need it, and reach out to friends and family who may be in need of support.
Compass Health has three offices in the county (Lopez, 46 Eads Lane; Orcas, 1286 Mt. Baker Road, Suite #209B; San Juan, 520 Spring St.) and can be reached by calling 360-378-2669. For more information about Compass Health, visit https://www.compasshealth.org/; about Mental Health America, visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net; and National Alliance on Mental Illness, visit https://www.nami.org.
Mandi Johnson contributed to this editorial.