Awareness seems to be the buzz word lately and for good reason. From certain types of cancers to neurological and developmental disabilities, advocacy and awareness are key components to ending the stigma associated with various diagnoses and challenges. World Mental Health Day is dedicated to destigmatizing mental health issues. Each year in October, the World Health Organization dedicates its focus to a specific mental health challenge.
This year, in particular, many people have been struggling with their mental health. The current social and political climate, combined with the emergence of COVID-19 and social distancing, have made 2020 a stressful year. There's no doubt that this year brought about many changes and challenges that have significantly affected mental health.
What Is World Mental Health Day?
World Mental Health Day occurs on October 10 every year. The focus of this day is to destigmatize and bring awareness to various mental health topics. Each year, the focus is slightly different. For example, last year's World Mental Health Day focused on suicide prevention; in 2018, the focus was on young people and mental health. This year, World Mental Health Day is focused on increased investment in mental health. Given the number of daily stressors we are all experiencing, investing in mental health is an appropriate area of focus for 2020.
Risks of Neglecting Your Mental Health
The impact mental health has on our overall health is undeniable. All areas of our lives are impacted by mental health, and its influence on our ability to function can be incredibly detrimental. Mental health issues can influence our decision making, thoughts, occupational performance, communication, and relationships. If mental health symptoms are not treated or are neglected, the consequences can be catastrophic.
Risks involved with neglecting your mental health can include:
- Physical pain
- Physical/medical health problems
- Financial problems
- Employment challenges
Investing in our mental health is as important as investing in our physical health; yet, many of us focus much more on our physical health than our mental health. The problem with that focus is our overall health and wellness are dependent on a healthy mind and mental state. As Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization puts it, "Without mental health, there can be no true physical health."
How To Invest in Your Mental Health
When you think of investing, you may automatically think of financial investments. However, we can invest in mental health in many ways, both on a global scale and on an individual one. For example, implementing changes in policies and providing additional support and training for mental health professionals are two ways our nation can invest in mental health.
Some of the more obvious ways we can personally invest in our own mental health include seeing a licensed mental health professional and taking medication as directed by your healthcare provider. Studies continue to show the success of psychotherapy (and psychotropic medication in some cases) in treating various mental health disorders. Therefore, if you are not seeing a mental health professional, you may want to consider doing so.
Other, not as obvious yet successful ways to invest in our mental health exist. One method that has garnered a lot of attention in recent years is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment without judgment and without trying to change it. You can practice mindfulness in many ways, from breathing exercises to yoga, and the benefits include:
- Stress reduction
- Improved memory
- Cognitive flexibility
- Reduced worry and rumination
- Less emotional reactivity
- Increased ability to manage emotions
- Strengthened immune system
- Improved relationship satisfaction
Other ways to invest in your mental health include:
- Making relaxation a priority
- Spending time in nature
- Finding something to be grateful for each day
- Exercising regularly
- Finding a hobby and/or creative outlet
Mental Health Is Important for All of Us
Mental health impacts us all. The existence of World Mental Health Day and increased advocacy for mental health awareness can help lessen the stigma associated with mental health problems. If you are struggling with a mental health disorder or suspect you may be, the first step in investing in your mental health is speaking up and getting the help you need.
Remember, millions of people across the country are struggling as well. In fact, one in five adult Americans struggles with a mental health disorder. That number is expected to grow given the emergence of COVID and other global stressors. Investing in your mental health is arguably the most important investment you can make in your life.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.