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September: Mental Health Check

Blood pressure, temperature, height, and weight – our doctor might have files with our measurements dating back years. But how regularly do you check in with your mental health? As Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, September can serve as a reminder to stay in touch with your emotional well-being. For peace of mind, ensure mental health becomes a part of your healthcare routine.

What is mental health?

Mental health includes many aspects of our well-being: it’s our emotional, psychological, and social landscape, affecting how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we react to stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Though it’s partially dependent upon biological factors like family history, the state of your mental health isn’t set in stone and can change over time as your life circumstances do. Your mental health can even affect your physical health – the two are closely intertwined. Poor mental health and mood disorders can actually raise your risk for conditions like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

If you experience problems with your mental health, you’re not alone. Mental illness is common – more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime. Depression, anxiety, and attention-related disorders are some of the most common, but this umbrella includes conditions like eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. However, mental illness and poor mental health aren’t the same thing – you don’t need an official diagnosis to take proactive care of your mental health.

Things to consider:

One event usually doesn’t spur on a period of poor mental health, but certain experiences like these can put you more at risk:

  • A history of childhood trauma or abuse
  • Experiences related to other chronic medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
  • A family history of mental illness
  • Stress at work or home
  • Lifestyle factors like alcohol or drug use, reduced physical activity levels, and an unhealthy diet

Many of these experiences can lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation, which compound existing levels of depression and anxiety. 

When should I seek help? 

If over the past two weeks, you have experienced any of the following symptoms, it might be time for a mental health check:

  • Difficulty sleeping or getting out of bed
  • Appetite changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Numbness, low energy, or loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others

To learn more about symptoms that sound familiar to you as well as what sort of diagnosis you may receive from a doctor, you may benefit from a screening for various mental illnesses.

What can I do?

Though we can’t always control what triggers periods of poor mental health, we can develop strategies and coping mechanisms to maintain a baseline of healthy behaviors.

  • Exercise and eat well. Physical activity boosts your mood, and eating regular meals high in fruits and vegetables can improve energy and focus. Hydrate with plenty of water, and limit caffeinated or sugary beverages that can give you the jitters. Stick to a sleep schedule and limit blue light exposure from electronics before bed.
  • Stay centered. When your mind wanders, you can give way to intrusive thoughts that intensify anxiety and depression. Try structured deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or journaling to stay present.
  • Set goals. Whether they’re long-term or short-term, prioritize and allow yourself to celebrate accomplishments along the way.
  • Connect with others. Spend quality time with the supportive people in your life, such as friends and family, to boost self-confidence.
  • See a therapist. Often, talk therapy is the most beneficial treatment method for mental illness – your therapist can make a plan for implementing recovery strategies, challenge unhelpful thoughts, or suggest medication options. The National Institute for Mental Health’s tip sheet can guide you through the process of selecting a therapist and preparing for your first visit.

Successful mental health management looks different for everyone, and it isn’t easy – most of these strategies require practice, and they usually involve leaving our comfort zones. Ultimately, though, experimenting with these practices will help you understand yourself on a deeper level and figure out what works best for your health.

Next steps

Whether you are experiencing a period of difficulty with mental health or have a diagnosed condition, know that recovery is possible and that mental illness is no one’s fault. Your healthcare providers and support networks are here to help.

If you are struggling with self-harm, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255), or text HELLO to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line. All communications are confidential. For emergencies, call 911.