Promoting Positive Mental Health—What Does it Take?

In recent years, we have begun to speak openly about the incidence and treatment of breast cancer, AIDS, and autism. Yet we remain reticent to talk openly about mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans—experience a mental health disorder in any given year.

The stigma associated with mental illness stems from lack of understanding or misperceptions.  Starting a public dialogue, seeking policy support, and educating others can help overcome this stigma so that mental illness can be discussed in the same way as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or any other illness. And not only do we need to have honest discussions about the effect of mental illness on individuals, but we need to talk about its impact on families as well.

It’s also important to have personal dialogues about promoting positive mental health from early on in our children’s lives. National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, seeks to communicate that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development from birth.

An ounce of prevention

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Day, here are five tips to promoting resiliency and good mental health.

  1. Take good care of yourself. Physical and mental health is interconnected, and it is therefore important to exercise regularly, practice good nutrition, and get plenty of rest.
  2. Invest time in relationships. Strong, quality relationships have a great effect on our well-being.  It is important to surround ourselves with those who have a positive impact on our emotional and physical health.
  3. Pursue challenging and self-enhancing activities. Whether this is learning a new language, taking dancing lessons or embarking on a new challenge at work, developing new skills   provides a sense of confidence and achievement leading to stronger emotional health.
  4. Experience the here and now. It is natural to perseverate on the past sometimes or to plan and worry about the future. However, it is equally important to focus on the present.  Practice mindfulness by being in the moment and making a conscious effort to appreciate the simple things, such as a great cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset, daffodils etc.
  5. Be aware of and embrace all emotions. One key factor in fostering resiliency is to be aware of all of our emotions and learn to express them in a healthy manner.  People who exhibit good emotional and mental health are reflective about their emotions and therefore present a more balanced perspective.  That is to say, they are content, have a zest for living, and can handle adversity, stress, and change, thus creating balance between work and play, rest and activity, social engagement and solitude, etc.

When to seek help

So when does one seek professional help for mental health issues?  The following behaviors are red flags that signal the need for immediate attention:

  • Drastic changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Feeling down or hopeless most of the time
  • Concentration difficulties that are interfering at work and at home
  • Self-destructive thoughts or fears that you can’t control
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you identify with any of these warning signs, please consider contacting a mental health professional in your community.  Remember there is no shame in asking for help and a big part of improved mental health is taking this first step toward recovery.

Check out these videos that illustrate how positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development from birth.