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Mental Health Awareness Month: Take Steps Toward Emotional Wellness

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Woman out exercisingLife is busy, and our mental wellbeing may not make our priority lists. But mental health has everything to do with overall wellbeing and requires tending, just like our physical health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a great time to begin developing habits for building resiliency. One in five adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness in the past year, and more than half of all residents will be diagnosed with a mental disorder during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Healthy habits can help prevent the onset of mental illness and ease symptoms.The NIH recommends six strategies to improve emotional health:

Brighten your outlook:

  • Forgive yourself for mistakes, and learn from them
  • Pat yourself on the back for the good things you do
  • Surround yourself with positive people

Reduce stress:

  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
  • Focus on your accomplishments
  • Prioritize tasks

Get quality sleep  

  • Set a consistent sleep schedule
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and free of electronic devices
  • Skip alcohol and caffeine late in the day

Strengthen social connections

  • Do activities with friends and family
  • Take a class or volunteer
  • Ask for help when you need it

Be mindful

  • Pay attention to your breaths
  • Practice mindful eating, noticing tastes and textures
  • Learn to meditate 

Cope with loss

  • Talk with friends, and/or joining a support group
  • Eat well and exercise
  • Be patient 

People who develop mental illness can get better with a combination of counseling, medication, and self-care. Too often, however, they don’t receive services. In 2017, 57 percent of adults with mental illness didn’t get treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Among young adults, 62 percent went untreated.

A lack of understanding about mental illness and its stigma can create roadblocks to treatment,’’ said NewBridge Services CEO Robert L. Parker.

Mental Health Statistics 

That is significant, especially with rates of depression and suicide on the rise. Suicide rates went up more than 30 percent in half of the states between 1999 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent study found a doubling in the number of emergency room visits by children and teens for suicide thoughts and attempts between 2007 and 2015.

Nearly 13 percent of children ages 12 to 17 surveyed reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the 2019 State of Mental Health in America report issued by Mental Health America.

About 20 percent of adults and children in the U.S. have mental illness. According to the NIMH, 44.6 million adults had some form of mental illness in 2017. (Young adults, ages 18 to 25 years, had the highest prevalence.) That includes about 11.2 million who have a serious mental illness that interferes with their daily routine. Half of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75 percent of mental health conditions develop by age 24. 

Symptoms of Mental IllnessesYoung man feels overwhelmed

Mental illnesses can affect thinking, mood and behavior. They include: anxiety disorders like phobias; mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder; behavioral disorders like ADHD; personality disorders, psychotic disorders like schizophrenia; and trauma- and stress-related disorders.

The severity of mental illness can be reduced through early intervention. Warning signs of mental illness, according to the NIMH, include:

  • Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
  • Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
  • Increased worry or feeling stressed
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
  • Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
  • Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people

Mental Health America offers free online mental health screening tools to help people determine if they have symptoms of mental illness at http://screening.mentalhealthamerica.net/screening-tools.

Reducing Stigma

Reducing the stigma of mental illness can make it easier for people to seek treatment. We all can help by:

  • Educating ourselves about mental illnesses
  • Seeing the person, not the illness
  • Pushing for legislation and policies that improve access to treatment
  • Taking the 8-hour Mental Health First Aid training offered by NewBridge and other organizations to learn how to respond to an  individual having a mental health crisis

“The sooner mental illness is identified and treated, the better the outcome,” Parker said. “People with mental illness are able to enjoy fulfilling, productive lives when they have effective treatments available to them.” 

If you or someone you love needs help, contact NewBridge Services at services@newbridge.org or 973-316-9333. Visit newbridge.org for more information.

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