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Take Care of Yourself: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health
Author name: Lee Health


mental health awareness month graphic

We’ve all been through a lot this year. And one issue that continues to make headlines? Our mental health. Specifically, the effect of COVID-19 and all that comes with it – vaccinations, quarantining, working from home, disrupted schedules, lack of social interaction, and more.

Now is a good time to pause and reflect. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so we want to make sure we recognize a difficult truth: Nearly one in five Americans lives with a mental health condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

That includes any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders, including bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia
  • Trauma
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance -use disorders

A recent statement by President Joe Biden on Mental Health Awareness Month mentions isolation, sickness, grief, and job loss as contributing factors on declining mental health as well as lack of access to mental health services during difficult times.

But it’s important to remember that you are not alone.

In fact, that is the theme of this year’s awareness month from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Experts stress that now is the time to focus on healing, reaching out, and connecting in safe ways by acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay.

Lee Health Behavioral Health

Lee Health’s trained and compassionate experts are here for you. Our psychiatrists, licensed clinical social workers, advanced registered nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and other clinical support resources work with patients and family members to develop a therapy program that supports a return to a full, productive life as quickly as possible.

We can help address mental health issues through medication management, individual therapy, group therapy, case management, and more in an outpatient setting.

But even more importantly, according to Paul Simeone, Ph.D., Vice President and Medical Director of Behavioral Health, community members need to understand that mental illness is not something we can overcome with willpower.

“Nor does it mean we’re moral failures. Biological factors such as genes or brain chemistry, trauma and abuse, and family history of mental illness can cause mental illness,” Simeone wrote in a previous mental health article.

Signs and symptoms

Lee Health psychologists Jacqueline Hidalgo, Psy.D., and Rose Anne Illes, Ph.D., offer a few suggestions and answers to common questions about how you and your family can cope with the fear of the unknown—now, and in the future.

Q: What are the common stress issues you see when a crisis arises, and are those the same for what we are experiencing now with a pandemic?

A: Signs and symptoms associated with stress include:

  • Difficulties with sleep
  • Low energy and motivation
  • Sadness
  • Nervousness
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Questioning one’s abilities
  • Feeling easily annoyed or irritable

Remember, too, that adults and children handle stress differently.  

A: Depending on the age and personality of your child, stress can be handled differently. Children may show:

  • Defiance
  • Disrespect
  • Complaining
  • Fighting
  • Not wanting to leave your side
  • Ignoring

Q: What are the best ways to stay mentally healthy during times of crisis?

A: One of the best things you can do is to practice self-compassion. Be nice to yourself. Ideas for this include:

  • Remain hopeful. Find things to be grateful about. You could start a gratitude journal, or keep notes in a gratitude jar.
  • Use your phone or computer to stay connected with a balance on when to disconnect.
  • Get the facts but monitor the time you spend watching the news,
  • Eat healthy and exercise, maybe not the time to go on a strict diet or exercise regime, find a way to make small changes such as eating less of the “bad food” or going on walks.
  • Focus on what you can do to stay prepared.
  • Be fun and creative while at home (e.g., dance, listen to music, small house projects, journaling).
  • Setting a routine/structure to the day can combat boredom.
  • Do not smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs to deal with your feelings.

Q: How does mental stress affect our physical health?

A: Our emotional health paired with our physical health make us “healthy.” Stress is normal for our bodies; however, we are generally able to recover from short periods of stress. But stress that continues over a long period of time places more strain to our health.

Mental stress can impact the immune system in many different ways and increase physical illness.

Reach Out and Come Together

Are you or a family member struggling? Remember, too, that your primary care physician or your child’s pediatrician is a perfect place to start the conversation about stress levels and possible mental health issues. A medical expert can advise your next steps including a conversation with a behavioral health expert.

The fact that everyone is experiencing the exact same problem can offer positive benefits,

“We know we are not alone on this one,” Dr. Hidalgo said. “The challenge can be that we are all struggling in one way or another and this can impact the amount of support one can get from others.”

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