May is national Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity for Americans to become more aware of how important good mental health is to us as individuals and to our society overall. But how many of us think of mental health that way? For many, the words mental health have a negative connotation and are often something people feel uncomfortable talking about.
Let’s think of mental health in a different way. What if May was Happiness Awareness Month? Now do I have your attention? Good, because mental health and personal happiness and well-being are connected. Personal investments in our mental health pay personal happiness dividends, while investments in mental health by employers, colleges and public policy makers pay societal dividends.
Mental Health Basics
So let’s all get on the same page when we talk about mental health.
First, it’s a part of all of us. Mental health is a term that includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life and life’s age-old companion, “stress”. Importantly, it also helps determine how we handle these inevitable stresses, how we relate to our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, classmates and others, the choices we make, how productive we are academically and in our occupations and professions as we strive to reach our full potential. Mental health is vitally important at every stage of life, from childhood to old age.
Mental Health vs. Mental Disorders
Second, while mental health is not an illness condition, mental disorders are. Mental health disorders are common, affecting about 1 in 5 Americans annually, while nearly 3 out of 4 adults report at least one stress-related symptom (like stress induced headaches or feelings of being overwhelmed or of being very lonely). They can also be serious conditions that affect our mood, distort our thinking and change our behavior. They can be influenced by our particular life circumstances- like growing up in poverty or being a survivor of childhood trauma or intimate partner violence or experiencing unexpected life events like a divorce or sudden job loss. They affect all ages, genders, races and socio-economic groups. Only a narcissist thinks themselves invulnerable. And that’s a mental health condition too!
The Consequences of Poor Mental Health
Thirdly, poor mental has many negative consequences for individuals, economies and societies. One consequence is the impact on our physical health. Poor mental health increases one’s risk for Cancer, Heart ailments, Strokes, Diabetes and many other conditions. These are costly conditions to treat and often diminish one’s happiness and quality of life. One condition, Major Depression, is highly associated with suicide, the second leading cause of death among young people. More Americans commit suicide each year than all who die in motor vehicle accidents or by gun violence.
Mental Health conditions also often co-occur with medical conditions. The mental health condition frequently complicates treatment plans and compliance with medical treatment. The costs of medical treatment for patients with both serious mental health and physical conditions is 2 to 3 times higher than those without co-occurring conditions. Aside from the human suffering, these financial costs are borne by individuals through high out-of-pocket expenses and higher healthcare insurance rates, by employers who provide healthcare benefits to employees and pay taxes, and by taxpayers who pay for Medicaid and Medicare benefits. There is a myriad of other consequences of poor mental health. These include the negative impacts on one’s livelihood or business, on our academic achievements, and on our ability to be productive member of society.
Maintaining Good Mental Health In The Time of COVID-19
Back to Happiness… there is a lot of good news even in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many things we can each do to promote and sustain our mental health and that of our children and loved ones. These include making time for regular exercise (this is a great stress reduction tool), practicing mindfulness and gratitude, making sure to make time to enjoy relaxation, hobbies or activities, staying connected to friends and social and spiritual groups ( while maintaining social distancing of course), and moderating your exposure to media and the 24/7 news cycle.
Good News For Those Experiencing Emotional Distress
Modern evidence-based treatments have never been more effective and available than today. Resources such as a healthcare provider, primary care doctor or mental health therapist can provide consultation and treatment. Employee Assistance Programs and hotlines help connect people to the right treatment resources. Self Help and Support groups of various kinds, as well online resources and helpful mental health apps have proliferated. Many businesses, like Kaiser Permanente for instance, are taking a lead in promoting good mental health practices in the workplace and in normalizing discussions of mental health just as happens with physical health. School systems have adopted anti-bullying initiatives. Colleges provide Student Assistance Programs to support student health and address the crisis of suicide in young adults. The list goes on and on.
Still, more awareness and sensitivity to mental health issues is needed and Mental Health Awareness Month is a great step toward that goal. If you know someone that is struggling with stress, depression or anxiety, be aware that you may be their best resource. You do not have to be a mental health professional nor offer solutions. Just be a trusted listener who first asks, “How are you doing, and can we talk about it”? Your supportive questions and compassionate listening may well help that person take their first step to getting the help they need.
Here is a list of some of the many free resources or sources of more information about Mental Health.
- NAMI MH Awareness Month
- Mental Health.GOV Get Immediate Help
- National Institute of Mental Health
- What Is Mindfulness
- CDC Mental Health Resources
- Mind Body Connection How Emotions Affect Health
- Suicide Prevention Hotline 800 273 8255
- Veterans Crisis Line
Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years. Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy programs to maintain employee health and well-being. For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.