Research continually proves that mental health is strongly tied to physical health. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
This is not just a feel-good statement. It is rooted in science. Individuals with depression have a greater risk of developing chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, and others. Mental health also matters because it affects so many of us, especially after a year of isolation, social distancing, and fear around the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ 2021 State of Mental Health in America found:
- Mental health was worsening before COVID-19, with 1.5 million more people reporting mental health illness in 2018’s report than the previous year’s report.
- COVID-19 drove those numbers even higher, with a 93% increase in anxiety screenings and a 62% increase in depression screenings in 2020, compared to 2019.
It is important for the health and well-being of ourselves, our families, and our communities that we take mental health seriously and are empowered to reach out and ask for help.
How to Start the Conversation
When you are struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, the first step in feeling like yourself again is having an open and honest conversation with someone you trust — like a loved one or health professional. Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas to help you feel confident, comfortable, and empowered:
- Write down a few thoughts you want to share.
- Remind yourself that you are not alone. Your feelings are valid.
- Be honest about your emotions and experiences, especially when you are talking with a mental health professional. They have seen and heard your concerns from a great many other people just like you and are there to help you.
- Be open to the advice and recommendations you hear from a mental health professional. (And take well-meaning advice from loved ones with a grain of salt.)
Treating Mental Health Conditions
The good news is that if you are struggling with anxiety, depression or another mental health issue, help is available. Mental health conditions are treatable. In fact, there are many proven, safe and effective treatments for mental health issues, including:
- Psychotherapy – Cognitive behavior therapy and talk therapy are two of the most common psychotherapies. There are many other approaches available, and a mental health professional can help you find the one that is best for you.
- Medication – Just as you would take insulin to help control blood sugar or medicine to lower your blood pressure, you may also need medicine to help regulate the hormones and chemicals that may be causing your mental health issues. A trained mental health professional or your primary care physician will discuss whether medication is right for you.
- Alternative or complementary medicine – In addition to therapy and medication, some individuals benefit from a holistic approach to their mental health. That may include therapies like acupuncture, exercise programs or peer support groups.
Healthy Habits Support Good Mental Health
Your mental health should always be a top priority. After all, a strong, supported mind can help you better manage setbacks or episodes of anxiety or depression. And the steps you take to keep your body healthy and strong can pull double duty in supporting your mental health.
- Regular exercise boosts your mood and can help reduce anxiety and depression.
- A good night’s sleep gives your brain and body the chance to rest and recharge — and may even reduce the risk of developing depression.
- A diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole foods may encourage your brain to produce more serotonin, a feel-good chemical linked to improved moods.
- Strong social connections, and time spent with friends and family, can help you feel happier, be healthier and even live longer.
Wherever you are, however you are feeling, take the first step and break the stigma of mental health conditions. Share your experiences with friends and family members as you work through the strategies and coping skills to help you feel stronger — physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Adapted From Emory Healthcare