Eat healthy, exercise daily, get a checkup every few months. We have all heard this time and time again- from our parents and loved ones, teachers, doctors, the media, and the list goes on and on. We as a society put so much emphasis on good physical health and looks- what is on the outside instead of what is on the inside. But what you don’t hear is how important mental health is and how to keep a healthy, positive mind. The mind is a large, complex muscle that also needs to be stretched and exercised, and needs some good old TLC once in a while. Even more so, mental health is key to personal and emotional well-being, healthy relationships, and overall contribution to society.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), over 43 million Americans suffer from a mental health condition in any given year. A “mental health condition” can be described as disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental health conditions may range from substance abuse disorders to eating disorders, from personality disorders to depression and anxiety. NAMI states that 18% of American adults struggle with mental health wellness- that is 1 in 5 adults in America experience mental illness. Approximately 9.8% of American adults- that’s 1 in 25- struggle with a severe mental illness that interferes with daily life and functioning.
It is safe to say that mental illness is prevalent amongst American adults. Mental illness can affect anyone and everyone regardless of age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation. So, why do we, the public, fail to recognize how important mental health is? Why do we fail to educate and inform ourselves of something so vital to both personal health and the general well-being of the communities and society in which we live? Historically throughout the US, mental illness has been seen as a sign of weakness or handicap. Those who were labeled as “mentally ill” were seen as outcasts or were referred to as “crazy.” Mentally ill individuals carried those stigmas with them for a lifetime and were perpetually shunned from society, forcing them to forfeit any sense of normalcy.
Now, in 2018, I’m here to tell you that things have changed. With all the latest technological advances, we now have a better understanding of how the human mind works and how to better treat and manage mental health conditions. Mental illness is not a “myth” “weakness” or a “handicap” anymore. You are not “crazy” or “psychotic”. Having a mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of. It is now formally recognized as a valid medical condition, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. In fact, research has shown that individuals who have mental health issues actually have different brain chemistry than those who do not. See, there are these hormones in our brain that affect our mood, thinking, and our entire central nervous system. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, glutamate, and dopamine play vital roles in regulating emotions, thoughts, and even how you sleep. Research has reportedly shown that those who struggle with mental illness have lower levels of these hormones, or the brain cannot process them correctly.
The moral of the story is that mental illness does exist and is quite prevalent across our great nation. So what do we do? Well, I think I have a simple solution. The first step is to simply acknowledge that our minds not only need, but deserve some attention and love, just like our bodies do. What is on the inside is just as important, if not more so, than what is on the outside. At the end of the day, your mind is something that is unique to you that no one can ever take away from you. Nurture it and learn to love it. Second step- spend time daily alone with your thoughts. Sit in a quiet room with no lights, no sound, just you and your innermost being. Breathe. Focus on your mood. Reflect upon the different emotions that you have felt throughout the day. Feel them and process them. Acknowledge that you are human, and it is okay to feel however you feel. Well what if this doesn’t work, Julia? Here is some more good news- most mental conditions are treatable with medication alone or in combination with cognitive therapy. So, if you try these daily solutions and still struggle with mental health conditions, reach out to a therapist or your primary care provider to discuss possible medication. Always remember- you are not alone and you can get through this. A favorite quote of mine, as someone who struggles with mental health wellness, for when I start to feel down and seemingly hopeless- “this too shall pass.”
If you or someone you love are struggling with mental health conditions or contemplating suicide, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273- TALK (8255).
By: Julia Robinson
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