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The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so… LET’S TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

If you have a mental health con­dition, you’re not alone. One in 5 American adults experiences some form of mental illness in any giv­en year. Across the population, 1 in every 20 adults is living with a seri­ous mental health condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or long-term recurring major depres­sion.

As with other serious illnesses, mental illness is not your fault or that of the people around you, but widespread misunderstandings about mental illness remain. Many people don’t seek treatment or re­main unaware that their symptoms could be connected to a mental health condition. People may ex­pect a person with serious men­tal illness to look visibly differ­ent from others, and they may tell someone who doesn’t “look ill” to “get over it” through willpower. These misperceptions add to the challenges of living with a mental health condition.

One factor that can worsen the symp­toms of mental illness is stress. For example, in schizophrenia, it can encourage hallucinations and delu­sions, while in bipolar disorder, it can trigger episodes of both mania and depression. Knowing what sit­uations cause it is the first step in coping with this very common ex­perience.

People are most susceptible to stress when they are: not getting enough sleep; not having a network of support; experiencing a major life change such as moving, the death of a loved one, starting a new job, having a child or getting married; experiencing poor physical health; or not eating well. Everyone has their own threshold. Certain things that may upset you might not even make one of your friends raise an eyebrow. Some people are affected when they experience large crowds and noisy environments, while oth­ers react to silence and free time.

In the matter of dealing with stress and ways of reducing stress in your life involves developing a person­alized approach to help you man­age your mental health condition and improve your quality of life. That is, once you’ve learned what your triggers are you can experi­ment with coping strategies. Some common ones include:

  • Time Management: making a day-to-day schedule can help you from becoming over­whelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines. Prioritize your activ­ities to help you use your time well.
  • Practice Relaxation: deep breathing and progressive mus­cle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits be­yond the immediate moment.
  • Devotional reading, prayer, and meditation: can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit your emotional well-being and your overall health.
  • Exercise daily: Daily exercise naturally produces stress-re­lieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health. Schedule time to walk outside, take your dog for a walk, ride a bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun.
  • Set aside time for yourself: do something that makes you feel good. It might be reading a book, getting a massage, or so­cializing with friends around coffee time.
  • Eat well: eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, veg­etables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind and can also help sta­bilize your mood.
  • Get enough sleep: symptoms of some mental health conditions like mania in bipolar disorder can be triggered by getting too little sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs: which don’t actually reduce stress. In fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with sub­stance abuse, educate yourself and get help.
  • Talk to someone: including friends, family, a counselor or a support group who actively lis­tens to you without judgment.

If the steps you’ve taken aren’t working, it may be time to share them with your mental health profession­al. He or she can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them.

Every year, people overcome the challenges of mental illness to do the things they enjoy. Through de­veloping and following a treatment plan, you can dramatically reduce many of your symptoms.

Mental health is all around us but is often misunderstood. The Roadmap to Mental Health (https://www.thementalhealthcoalition.org/mhcs-roadmap-to-mental-health/),  by the Mental Health Coalition, can explain what we mean when we say, “mental health.” #You MatterMN.

Article by Dean Rudloff, member of the Lake County Mental Health Task Force, the North Shore Mental Health Group, and the Vail Place Clubhouse Coalition — organizations committed to mental well­ness, supporting one’s ability to thrive de­spite the challenges of mental illness.

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