May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), “1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.” Mental health affects all ages, from children to adults, and it is part of our overall health and well-being. Let’s explore why mental health is so important and how we can make it a priority.

What is Mental Health?

First, let’s start by defining mental health. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes mental health as a “state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Taking care of your mental well-being does not mean an absence of negative emotions or feelings, but it does mean practicing healthy strategies to cope with life’s ups and downs.

Why is Mental Health Important?

Twenty-one percent (21%) of Americans experience mental illness. It can affect our thinking, our mood, and our behavior. Something that is so prevalent and affects all areas of our livelihood should be treated with priority. Mental illness increases the risk of heart disease, metabolic diseases, substance abuse, and unemployment (NAMI). Our mental well-being directly affects our quality of life.

5 Ways to Make Mental Health a Priority

Press Pause. Life is busy and full of notifications. Allow yourself to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the day by unplugging from social media and other digital outlets for a few minutes.

Be Mindful. It’s so easy to get stuck dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Practice being present. Take time to consider the who, what, when, where, and why of your decisions. Pay attention to your senses and notice what you hear, feel, see, taste, and smell.

Manage Stress. While we all wish we could get rid of stress, it’s nearly impossible. Instead, we can choose how we react and respond to it. Try deep breathing or other stress management techniques for healthier coping strategies.

Prioritize Personal Time. Allow yourself time to rest and relax. Make a habit of scheduling some “me-time,” even if it’s only a few minutes. Remember, to adequately take care of other people and things, we also must take care of ourselves.

Seek Help. Remember, you don’t have to navigate mental health alone. If you’re experiencing feelings or behaviors that you cannot control, seek the help of a professional. Building a support system of doctors, counselors, therapists, and trusted friends and family members is a key part of managing mental health.

For more information on Mental Health Awareness Month, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Website.

Written by BWS Lead Health Coach- Kelly Schlather, BS, ASCM – CEP

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