How Can I Take Care of My Mental Health?
The numbers around mental health are quite striking: 1 in 5 adults living in the United States will meet diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition at some point throughout their lifetime, with almost 6% of the population meeting criteria for a serious mental illness.
Mental health issues are the fifth most common cause of short-term disability and the fourth most common cause of long-term disability. Approximately 1 in 8 emergency room visits is for mental health issues and 60% to 70% of patients with chronic medical conditions also have mental health conditions. Over 200 billion dollars are spent on mental health issues annually, making it one of the costliest health conditions. Despite these statistics, mental health is still stigmatized, and people often do not feel as comfortable acknowledging their needs related to mental health symptoms as they would for comparable physical symptoms.
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, impacting 18% of the population each year. While highly treatable, less than 40% of people who meet criteria for an anxiety disorder receive treatment. Depression is the second most common mental illness in the United States (and the number one most common in the world) and impacts approximately 7% of the population annually. It is the leading cause of disability in the nation for ages 15 to 44 and one of the top three workplace issues. Bipolar disorder (2.8%) and schizophrenia spectrum disorders (fewer than 1%) are less common but often present with the most disabling or difficult to manage symptoms without intervention or support.
Whether you have a diagnosis of mental illness or occasional symptoms of anxiety, depressed mood, or stress, the following information can help to prevent or manage symptoms. Wellness and self-care may seem like buzzwords, but they are the mental health equivalent of washing hands to avoid contamination or infection — small, consistent actions that prevent or mitigate larger issues.
Important mental health hygiene strategies
- Take care of your body. Physical activity and exercise helps your body, brain and emotions
- Spend time with family and friends. Social engagement also helps your body, brain and emotions. Boundaries are important if you have family or friends that tax your mental health
- Take care of your emotions. Name your emotions and learn to identify signals that let you know you are feeling sad, angry or stressed
- Abandon your routines when stress increases. Small, consistent acts can help to regulate emotions
- Try to reframe any negative thoughts you may be having about yourself. Ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend who was bringing this issue to me?”
Know the warning signs. Seek professional help if you:
- Are feeling overwhelmed, isolated, hopeless
- Start experiencing frequent mood swings
- Are no longer getting out of bed
- Find yourself not needing to sleep very much but having excessive energy
- Feel like you can’t leave your house
- Are developing fear of crowds, strangers, or being alone
- Have difficulty slowing down your thoughts or concentrating on one thing at a time
- Start engaging in risky behaviors that are out of character for you
- Have changes in your worldview that scare you or are concerning to family or friends
- Begin experiencing things that others do not experience (such as seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting or smelling things that others do not notice)
- Notice your feelings and behaviors are significantly impacting your relationships
- Notice other coping strategies are no longer working, or you are struggling to implement them
- Are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- Have increased use of alcohol or substances to cope
Help is around the corner. Talk with your doctors here at Ochsner Health and/or visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (www.nami.org) and National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov) websites to learn more about mental health services in your area.
Make an appointment with a behavioral health specialist.