Living Columns & Blogs

We need to keep ourselves mentally fit, too

Contributing writer

November 20, 2015 8:02 AM

Mental health is a state of being. It’s how a person copes with emotions, stressors and everyday life challenges.

It can affect the way they see themselves, their friends, family, job and the world around them. It strongly influences an individual’s potential for creating and achieving their goals, and affects a person’s ability to obtain and maintain a feeling of well-being.

More importantly, a person’s mental health doesn’t always stay the same; it changes with circumstances and different stages of life.

The National Institute for Mental Health reports that roughly 26 percent of Americans 18 and older — about 1 in 4 adults — suffer from a mental illness in any given year. Despite this, the stigma surrounding mental illness often prevents people from seeking the treatment that they need.

Mental Health Wellness Week, which ends Sunday, is one of the many mental health campaigns that aim to combat that stigma and promote ways to support mental health.

In 1984, Freedom from Fear, a national nonprofit mental health advocacy organization, founded Mental Health Wellness Week, a grass-roots public education campaign that promotes mental health across the country. The goal of Mental Health Wellness Week is to create awareness that mental health is not just about mental illness, it’s also about an individual’s physical and overall health.

Most of us spend time each day on things like hair, nails, skin and teeth. We do these to maintain our outer appearance. And most of us make time to maintain our physical health through annual physical exams, mammograms, lipids panels, etc. But how much time do we spend working on what’s on the inside?

Mental health is an integral part of our overall wellness, so it seems natural that we would make it as high a priority as our appearance and physical health. Yet the stigma around mental illness often prevents people from making it a priority.

This week is a reminder to us all to focus on our mental health and well-being. Each of us can incorporate healthy practices into our daily lives to improve the way we feel about ourselves, and improve how we cope with the ups and downs of life. Here are some simple steps you can take to improve your mental wellness:

▪ Connect with friends and family.

▪ Get at least eight hours of sleep a night.

▪ Stay positive. Consider writing five things you are grateful for in a “gratitude journal” every night before going to sleep. Review your entries occasionally to remind yourself of the many good things in your life even when you feel at your darkest.

▪ Manage stress with breathing exercises, massage, yoga, meditation or physical activity.

▪ Eat a well-balanced diet.

▪ Set achievable goals.

▪ Make better lifestyle choices.

▪ Seek professional care when needed. Don’t let stigma stand in your way.

If you would like to be more involved at a community level, the Thurston Thrives Clinical Care Team — led by Mark Freedman, social services director for Thurston County, and Dr. Kevin Haughton, of Physicians of Southwest Washington — have identified several goals aimed at integrating and increasing access to medical and behavioral health care. To learn more about Thurston Thrives or to get involved, go to thurstonthrives.org.

To be truly healthy, we all need to focus on what we feel inside and take daily steps to alleviate stress. And remember, there is no shame in getting help when you need it. For more information, contact Kristy Lysell at lysellk@co.thurston.wa.us.

Dr. Rachel C. Wood is the health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, co.thurston.wa.us/health, @ThurstonHealth on Twitter or facebook.com/ThurstonHealth.

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