Why Does Mental Health Matter?

By Amanda Roland

I suffer from anxiety. Much like a physical condition, it is something I grapple with every day. Sometimes I can pinpoint the exact reason for my anxiety, but more often than that, it comes at me without specific cause or reason. Looking back over my life, I realize I have always suffered from it on some level, but the birth of my first child is what really kick started it in my adulthood. At the time, I thought I was suffering from postpartum depression, but it was most likely postpartum anxiety. I sought mental health help at my six-week checkup, but I stopped the medication once I felt better and got more sleep.

After enduring an extremely stressful set of years and a toxic workplace at my previous job, my anxiety once again came back in full force. This time, it was here to stay. I knew I needed more than just a brief respite of medication. So now, I see a therapist, take medication and incorporate breathing, meditation and prayer to deal with my anxiety.

What science says

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans experience mental health issues equaling more than 40 million adults a year. The stigma behind poor mental health has held many people back from seeking needed help. Why is there such a stigma? Many people believe that if they admit to having issues with mental health, they label themselves as crazy, unstable or weak. Mental health conditions are often blamed on poor life choices or an individual fault.

The Mayo Clinic encourages people to acknowledge their condition without shame.

“Others’ judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support and helping educate others can make a big difference.”

In addition, there has often been a disconnect between traditional health care and mental health care. Many health insurance carriers see mental health as outside of typical coverage, thereby making affordable care out of reach for many.

Mental health is important because it’s a vital part of people’s lives and impacts thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Having positive mental health can promote a productive and nourishing life. It makes people more successful at work, school or home. Good mental health gives people strength in their relationships and can help us cope with adversity.

When people struggle with their mental health, physical health is also affected. Depression can cause severe exhaustion, and anxiety raises heart rate and blood pressure. Mental health disorders often lead to people paying less attention to their own general wellness. Without help, many people suffering with these conditions also may turn to drugs, alcohol or dangerous behaviors as a coping mechanism.

What can you do?

If you begin to see your mental health decline, start with at-home behaviors that can make a difference. A nutritious diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep can do wonders. Taking time for a break and talking to individuals in your life can also help. Learning more about mental health from trusted online resources like Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com/us), National Institute of Mental Health (nami.org/) and Anxiety and Depression Association of America (www.adaa.org). If this doesn’t do enough, it may be time to reach out for help.

You can talk to your primary care doctor who can refer you to a mental health professional in your area or pursue virtual psychological assistance where you can speak to a psychologist online or via phone. Consider friends, family or clergy as a source of referrals. Be open to selecting among several providers to find the best fit.

Once you have made an appointment, go to your first visit prepared to discuss your mental health and how it relates to your life. The therapist will want to know about your life and your problems. This information will help the therapist to assess your situation and develop a plan for treatment. A plan may include medication to deal with symptoms and recommendations for ways to cope with your condition. Therapists may also have recommendations for alternative or herbal medicine that can be beneficial.

Peer support can be an important complement to therapy. Support groups are designed to bring together people with similar conditions. Typically, your local community will also have other types of peer supports, including drop-in centers and training courses in wellness and recovery.

“If you or a loved one is experiencing mental illness, the best thing you can do is get treatment now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but now,” said Mary Giliberti, the CEO of NAMI.

by Tracy Wright