Mental illnesses affect tens of millions of people in the United States and across the globe each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Many people don’t seek treatment or recognize that the symptoms they experience could be connected to a mental health condition.
Mental Illness Awareness Week, which takes place each year during the first full week in October, is an opportunity to raise awareness of mental illness, fight stigma and provide support. Embracing open dialogue around mental health issues is important so that communities are educated on widespread misconceptions and those living with a mental health condition can be encouraged to seek help. There are many support services and treatment options available, which can help people overcome the challenges of mental illness and lead lives they enjoy and find meaningful.
In honor of Mental Health Week, here are four ways anyone can improve their mental and emotional health:
1. Practice positive self-talk (i.e., “I can handle this” or “everything will be OK”). Our internal dialogue can shape how we respond to life and its daily challenges, so one of the ways to be intentional around choosing a positive outlook is to repeat encouraging messages (self-talk) in your mind.
2. Experiment with mindfulness techniques. Meditation and deep breathing exercises can help ease your mind, center you and refocus your thoughts. To get started, try using the Headspace or Calm app, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
3. Stick to an exercise program. Exercise is linked to reliable changes in mood and has benefits to mental health that occur both right after completing a bout of exercise (e.g., feelings of revitalization), as well as more lasting effects — especially on feelings of low mood and anxiety. In his research, Jim Annesi, Ph.D., health psychologist and vice president of research and evaluation at the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, studied the association between moderate exercise and changes in psychological well-being. Results from the study showed that even low amounts of physical activity (e.g., two to three walks per week) will facilitate improvements in overall mood, depressed feelings and anxiousness. “Although deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques are excellent, they did not add to the considerable mood enhancements we found through exercise alone,” he said. To kick-start your exercise routine, check out helpful strategies from Dr. Annesi and other experts in the New York Times article, “How to Start Working Out.”
4. Focus on gratitude and embrace the power of prayer. Gratitude is good for your soul. Studies show that giving thanks and counting blessings can help lower stress and improve your relationships. Writing down your gratitude is also good for your overall health and wellbeing.
If you or someone you know needs support or intervention for mental illness, please contact the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225 or mygcal.com. GCAL is the 24/7 hotline for accessing mental health services in Georgia. For more resources, visit https://www.nimh.nih.gov.
Watch Wanda’s Y story to learn how she copes with mental illness and finds support and a sense of belonging at the Y.
By Erica K. Faulkner
Director of Content and Social Media