May is mental health awareness month, and seems like a good time to talk about the truth about mental health. So, here are 19 things every human should know about their body. Some of these can help you avoid personally experiencing a mental health crisis and needing to seek psychotherapy for the treatment of a mental health disorder.
Here are the top things you should know about mental health, in no particular order.
- What happens when you separate the mind from the body? You die. Seriously. Everything in your body is interconnected. Thoughts, feelings, blood sugar, movement, eating, dreams- everyone of these things impacts your human body.
- Mental health is just health. Yeah, I said it. I'm a therapist and I don't believe there should be any kind of odd delineation between your mind and your body. Not sure if this is true? Refer back to #1.
- A relatively small percentage of people suffer from major illnesses related to the mind, traditionally referred to as "major mental illness." According to the National Institute of Mental Health, less than 4.1% have experienced major mental illness in a given year.
- A relatively large percentage, almost 26% of Americans self-report having a mental health disorder in the previous year according to a rigorous study conducted by the CDC.
- As a psychotherapist, I see much of this gap related to poor education on what "mental illness" is and poor education about how to care for our health. This means how we care for our nutritional, movement, emotional, social, sleep, and other needs.
- Symptoms are important in diagnosing any medical disorder, including "mental health" disorders.
- Symptoms are signals from the body that something is out of alignment. Symptoms are healthy, normal, and important.
- Symptoms can start in a variety of ways, but they will increase over time if you don't listen to your body's signals. Symptoms are nothing to be fearful of or ignore.
- If you don't listen to your body's initial "signal" that something is off, your body has a tendency to try other ways of speaking to you. Difficulty falling asleep might shift into stomach aches, or headaches.
- Your body needs sleep every day. It also needs still time to know it is "ok" to sleep. If your body is constantly getting stimulating signals, it thinks it needs to stay up. Do relaxing activities for an hour before bed that lead you towards sleep. Reading, watching boring television, watching the stars, writing, cleaning the kitchen- find your personal "sleeping pill."
- Your body needs to move every day. Seriously. In fact, a study shows that exercise has better long-term results for treating Major Depression Disorder than Zoloft.
- Daily movement where your heart pumps and you sweat helps you avoid, treat, or manage more health conditions than could be listed in this article. And guess what, you've already heard all of this.
- Your body and mind needs to be still every day. Meditation has been show to not just lower anxiety, but can help control blood sugar, blood pressure, and a host of other medical conditions. When you treat your body well, it has time to do the things it knows how to do.
- Your body has innate healing capabilities. I'm not talking in a woo-woo- avoid all doctors sort of way. I mean in a clinical proven sort of way, and medical advances has allowed us to step in and support your body's healing when life conditions exceed what your body could normally manage.
- Your body is a survivor. It does as much as it can possibly do in a 24 hour period, based on the environmental conditions it is exposed to. The environmental conditions you expose it to.
- If you want your body to have optimum immunity to heal from the daily illnesses and stress it is exposed to, you need to give it some time to rest and recover.
- If you want your body to function at an optimal level, do your best to either avoid extremely stressful situations, or simply change your perception of that stressful situation.
- Did you just say change your perception? Yes. If you change the way you think about stress it changes the way your body responds to stress. In short, if you think the stress isn't dangerous, problematic, etc. your body won't have any increase in health risks. Watch this TED talk, it will blow your mind.
- If you or someone you know are part of the 4%, everything above applies to you. Some of the best long-term treatment approaches for bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, etc. relate to good self-care- taking care of the health of your whole body.
- Whether you are extroverted or introverted you need strong social connections, your preferences on how many social connections may just vary. Go and connect with others!
- Take care of your spiritual self. No, I'm not talking about religion. Connect in with deep meaning and purpose for your life. Everybody has one. Determine what yours is and go after it!
While I'd love to write about 100 more things, the moral of the story is this- learn about how your body functions, notice what is optimal for you. Make choices in your life daily that allow your body to function at its most optimal level.
If we all did that, our world would change. The United States would experience fewer reports of mental illness overall. We could cut the 46 million prescriptions for Xanax each year in the United States by a significant percentage. People who experience mental illness would see more models of healthful living around them. People who experience major mental illness would have more support from healthy, happy individuals in their life.
How will you support mental health awareness month? If you have an article, tweet, or Facebook messages about mental health awareness, share it with us, and we will help share it with the world! On twitter? Hashtag #mhm2014 and tag @good_therapy to get your message into the world!