May 8, 2018
Written by Mary Madden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Waukesha County
The term "mental illness" carries with it a long history of negative attitudes, myths, fear and discrimination. It allows our society to categorize everyone with a mental health condition into one category "The Mentally Ill." We certainly would not refer to a group of people diagnosed with cancer as "The Cancers" or those with heart disease as "The Heart Attacks." The reality is that we all have mental health and it can fall anywhere on a continuum from mental wellness to a diagnosable mental health condition for some people. This is not an “us vs. them” issue; It is about all of us and our mental wellness.
Having spent much of my personal and work life providing support for people living with mental health conditions, I have often wondered why we don’t talk about mental health the way we do physical health. It seems from a young age we are taught how to take care of our bodies – eat right, exercise, get enough sleep – but not so much about what it means to be mentally well and how those same things can affect our mental health.
What Improves Mental Health and Wellness?
According to current statistics, 20% of us will deal with a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in our lifetime. Those diagnoses may require ongoing treatment in the form of therapy and/or medications and this blog is not meant to negate the need for treatment when it is warranted. Regardless of diagnosis or not, there are things we can do to improve and maintain our mental health and wellness, just as we would our physical health and wellness. Here are a few of those strategies picked up over the years from my own family experiences and those of many of the people that we serve at NAMI.
- Sleep: For most of us this means 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep but everyone is different. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day and keep a sleep log to see if you find a correlation between feeling “down” or lethargic and less sleep.
- Nutrition: According to the Mental Health Foundation, research shows that a balanced mood and feelings of wellbeing can be protected by ensuring that our diet provides adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fats, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water. Try adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet and see if it makes a difference in how you feel physically and mentally.
- Activity: Research is beginning to show that exercise can be just as effective for managing mild depression as antidepressants or certain therapies. I think most of us would agree that being outside in the sunshine and active is great for a mood boost. Activity doesn’t mean having to pay for a gym membership, a walk around your neighborhood or in the park, mowing the lawn or pulling weeds in the garden are all cost free activities that will get you moving.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s all honor it by being more aware of our own mental health and wellbeing and that of our loved ones.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, find help and hope by going to https://www.namiwisconsin.org/find-help-near-you/ and get connected with a NAMI in your area or dial 2-1-1 to access your local crisis services and other relevant resources.