In case you didn’t know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Everyone has mental health. We all have varying degrees of ‘healthiness’ and can all improve our mental health awareness. I spent a long time researching and preparing for this video & post and ultimately decided it may not be perfect, but it’s way too important to me to not speak up.
My goals for this post are to increase mental health awareness and improve our mental health awareness together for us to become better people and better friends.
Feel free to watch the video while you read, as the first few minutes are more fact-heavy. Sources are linked following each section.
Mental Health Facts
- Anxiety: According to National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) 31.9% of adolescents have some type of anxiety disorder.
- Anxiety disorders are 10% more common in adolescent females than males.
- Depression: Adults ages 18-25 have the highest rate of major depressive episodes at 13.1% . (source)
- Of the adolescents who experienced a major depressive episode, approximately 71% had severe impairment.
- Suicide: According to the CDC (2017) suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the US. (source)
- For Americans age 10-34, suicide was the second leading cause of death (behind ‘unintentional injury’), and “the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54”.
- “There were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States as there were homicides (19,510).
- Between 2001 – 2017, the age-adjusted suicide rate increased 31% across the total population.
- The suicide rate among males remained nearly four times higher (22.4 per 100,000 in 2017) than among females (6.1 per 100,000 in 2017)” (source).
- Even without a clinical diagnosis, many people suffer daily with mild to severe impairments from mental illnesses and their symptoms.
- “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year” (source, source). (That’s ~14% of the entire United States’ population.)
- Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of any mental illness (25.8%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (22.2%) and aged 50 and older (13.8%) (source, source).
Common symptoms of depression:
- Low energy
- Low self-esteem
- Sleep disturbance
Common symptoms of anxiety:
- Feeling on edge
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbance
(From the DSM 5 – the book clinicians use to diagnose patients)
Everyone may experience similar symptoms to those of anxiety and depression over their lifetime. Happiness and wellness come in waves. But evidence of many of these symptoms over a significant period of time may signal something more than normal stress.
Everyone has mental health.
Mental Health Stigma
- The NAMI describes stigma as “when someone, or you yourself, views you in a negative way because you have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as shame that can be felt as a judgement from someone else or a feeling that is internal, something that confuses feeling bad with being bad” (source).
- The way people talk and think and mental illness can make it more difficult for people to recognize problems or symptoms within themselves.
- It may also make it more difficult to open up to others about their struggles and feel comfortable seeking treatment.
Mental Health & Wellness
Symptoms of mental illness have physical effects on the body. (NAMI)
Mental illnesses can effect eating and sleeping habits, brain function, and increase risk of chronic illnesses (like heart disease or blood pressure problems). At the end of this post, I include a few tips for increasing wellness to help promote good mental and physical health.
Some people still believe mental health is not tied to physical health. There are many physical symptoms of mental illness and many of them can be harmful on your health and your body over long periods of time.
Since you are reading this, I know you care about mental health. Please remember, and help to end the stigma, that mental health does not affect physical health.
Even though many people experience and cope with symptoms of mental illness on their own, some people need additional resources to deal with them.
Everyone experiences symptoms to varying degrees and over different lengths of time. Even if you do not have a diagnosable mental health condition, you still may have some habits or symptoms that are more difficult for you to overcome.
Be mindful that everyone’s process is different.
Maybe you love physical fitness and can find the motivation to get yourself to the gym 5 days a week. Maybe your friend cares a lot about physical fitness, too, but they might need encouragement, an accountability partner, or a set schedule (like fitness classes or personal training) to create their own healthy habits.
Being a Supportive Friend (and Better Human) (source)
Know the warning signs
- Get familiar with the common symptoms, like those mentioned above. Be aware of your friends and what’s ‘normal’ for them, so you can notice if things go beyond their usual patterns of stress or sadness.
Start the conversation
- Be available and open to listening.
- You truly never know what someone is going through. Even if they do open up about their experiences, you may not understand or know exactly how to help them.
- You don’t have to solve all their problems. You might not be able to solve all their problems. But you can be there. And you can listen. And you can let them know they are loved and heard.
- Your reaction and your support may very well be the difference between someone making progress towards seeking treatment and help.
- Be available to help and to listen (note: these tips can help you be a better friend in general!)
- By being vulnerable, you can build closer friendships by allowing a space where you can both open up. Being more in-tune with your friends on a deeper level can help your mutual awareness of each other’s mental health.
- Be patient and understanding. Provide help and hope.
Be a friend
- Check in with your friends (even those who may seem usually happy, outgoing, or energetic)
- Avoid phrases like ‘get over it’ and ‘you’re fine’ and harmful jokes and phrases that just aren’t funny as to not perpetuate the negative ways people talk about and perceive mental illness.
Get advice, learn more, & get educated
- If you are in a situation where you don’t know exactly how to help, reach out to a trusted adult (family member, friend, advisor, teacher, coach, faith leader, etc.) to get resources and help your friends. (It is okay to ask for help!)
- Learn more and do your research. Knowledge is power!
- You can help increase awareness and reduce the negative stigmas just being getting educated about mental health.
- And with these tips you’ll be a better, more supportive & patient friend to others (source)
Mental Health Improving Activities
These tips from Psychology Today (source) are great ways to improve your own mental health! They are also some simple tips to recommend to your loved ones who may be struggling or in need of some healthy, stress-reducing practices.
RELATED: How to Create a Self-Care Routine
- Practicing positivity – Fostering a positive perception on life can become a habit. When I notice my mental switch going from naturally positive to naturally negative, I know it’s time to prioritize mental health.
- Expressing gratitude – Practicing gratitude is a proven link to overall happiness! Start by thinking of or writing down 3 things you’re grateful for each day before you go to sleep. Or, keep a gratitude journal of positive events and emotions to help elongate those feelings and create a cycle of positivity.
- Live in the present moment – Focusing on physical sensations can help ground you in the moment. I’ve noticed this help me especially if I can’t fall asleep at night. Focusing your mind on physical sensations of the present moment like touch, sound, and smell can help center your mind and regain focus (it sounds odd, but it works, try it!)
- Exercise – You’ve probably heard this one a lot, and for good reason. Physical exercise is mood-boosting and stress-relieving. There are lots of benefits to regular exercise and getting outdoors!
- Eating a good meal – Food is fuel. Healthy nutrients improve mood & brain function, as well as helping you feel better over longer periods of time, compared to ‘fueling’ your body with junk food.
- Opening up to others – If you want others to feel comfortable opening up to you, you can start by being vulnerable yourself. This can help build positive relationships with others. And by sharing your own struggles, they might feel more comfortable sharing theirs.
- Being kind – My fave! Being kind and doing nice things for others helps build self-esteem while paying it forward. Whether or not you believe in good karma, I believe you will never regret being more kind.
- Take a break – Especially in periods of more serious stress, taking a break to practice simple breathing exercises. taking a quick walk, or having a healthy snack can help give you (and your body) rest so you can keep doing your best.
- Good sleep habits – Regular sleep habits and getting enough sleep at night can do great things for you! Our bodies need time to rest and recharge. I’ve noticed I am a better person when I’ve had enough sleep! Creating routines can help you get enough sleep, sleep better, and be able to fall asleep faster.
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 24/7, by call or chat function on their website – 1-800-273-8255, http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) – 240-485-1001
- Psychology Today – for a national directory of therapists, psychiatrists, therapy groups and treatment facility options near you.
Thank you for reading and for caring about mental health. My goals for this post and video were to provide a crash-course in making mental health a priority, raising mental health awareness, & getting educated to help yourself & others.
You can always be a better friend. You can always learn more.
If you are struggling with mental health, please know you are not alone. There are so many people and resources ready to help you. You do not have to do this alone. If someone you know is struggling, I hope you will be kind, patient, and ready to listen. You truly never know what someone is going through or how much your love and kind words can make a difference.
Be kind always,