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Learn when to ask for help with mental health woes

by Deidre Ashley

May 3, 2017 | from Sound Mind | The Jackson Hole News & Guide

Mental Health Awareness Month in May is a great time to talk about what mental health is.

It is something you kind of know when you see it but is difficult to put into words.

I think my friend Jude puts it best: “Mental health is like money in the bank. You don’t really notice it until it is gone.”

Here is what I have come up with: People who are mentally healthy tend to have self-confidence, have the ability to laugh and enjoy life, are content, show resilience or bounce with adversity, have a sense of meaning or purpose, are able to regulate emotions, have a good balance between work, play and rest and are able to maintain fulfilling relationships. How can we go about striving for mental health?

First, the mind and body are linked. Physical health is an important part of overall health, which means getting enough sleep and exercise, paying attention to nutrition, getting sunlight and limiting vices.

The second part gets a bit tricky and includes the emotional health piece. It is really important to pay attention to your own needs while trying not to let worry and stress build up. That is where practicing mindfulness can come in handy. Be present in the moment by making time for leisure, appealing to your senses, noticing the joys in everyday experiences, helping others or scheduling time to contemplate and appreciate what you do have.

Third, we are social creatures by nature and need positive connections and relationships with other people. Engage with others, get out and learn new things. Ask people about themselves. Spend time with the people you enjoy. Volunteer or become part of a group or social network.

Another major part of maintaining mental health is self-awareness. We are all more vulnerable to stressors when we are worn down or under a good deal of stress. Watch for risk factors such as loss of connection to others, a trauma or serious loss, feeling hopeless, feeling like you are a burden to others, or experiencing an increase in substance use.

Mental health is on a continuum with the need for intervention becoming higher as you climb the continuum. As you move toward more serious challenges, the need to seek assistance with your symptoms becomes more important.

Stigma and affordability are often the biggest barriers to those who need help, keeping them from seeking assistance. Roughly 20 to 25 percent of the population is dealing with some sort of mental illness at any given time. One in 17 is dealing with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It is estimated that over half of those who need treatment will not seek it. Remember that it is OK to seek help.

More than half of us will deal with a mental illness in our lifetime, with depression and anxiety as the most common. Seeking help can also be viewed as a continuum. Talking with a friend, attending a support group or visiting with clergy can all be early interventions. Professional help should be sought when you have made consistent efforts to improve your health and still do not feel good.

Good mental health is not just the absence of mental health problems. It also does not mean that you will never experience difficult times or emotional problems. Mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics, protective factors and self-awareness. If you are dealing with serious symptoms, it is not a sign of weakness to seek help. 

Deidre Ashley is executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in social work.