May is Mental Health Month, and boy, do we need to observe it this year. Statistics for anxiety and depression are up across race, ethnicity, gender, and age. And the bad news is this trend is the continuation of a mental health crisis that existed even before the pandemic, and not at all an entirely new public health issue. The good news, however, is that people are reaching out and seeking help. It sucks that it took a pandemic to inspire greater mental health focus because that implies that a lot of people found themselves floundering in the face of so much rapid change, but I choose to see the fact that help is being sought as a sign that things are headed in the right direction.
According to Mental Health America’s 2021 State of Mental Health report, the number of people seeking help with anxiety and depression saw a 93 percent increase from 2019’s numbers. The percentage of young people between the ages of 11 and 17 struggling with mental health also increased, with 9 percent more searching for mental health aids and 77,470 youth expressing suicidal ideation, 27,980 of those being LGBTQ youth. Black and Native American people also experienced surges in diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Just as the global workforce’s ability to pivot to working from home has opened our eyes to just how much we need a better work-life balance, perhaps an increased need for mental health resources will expose the faults in our wellness systems and inspire us to push for improved quality of and greater accessibility to mental health resources.
It sucks that it took a pandemic to inspire greater mental health focus, but the fact that help is being sought is a sign that things are headed in the right direction.
This year, the theme for Mental Health Month is “Tools 2 Thrive”, which focuses on “providing practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their personal situation.” Mental health is an essential part of our overall health and welfare, no less important than any physically manifesting ailments, and it’s time to treat it that way. Here are some major ways that our mental health can be impacted, and coping tips for how to manage them.
Adapting After Trauma and Stress
Trauma events don’t have to be catastrophic to warrant attention. At times, everyday stress can simply be too overwhelming to cope with. You can work to become more resilient against trauma by:
- making time to process your thoughts after a traumatic event,
- connecting with people who care about you,
- talking to someone who has had a similar experience,
- allowing yourself the space and time to heal.
Also, try not to get frustrated when your recovery doesn’t seem to be going as well as you believe it should.
Dealing With Anger and Frustration
Our emotions can get the best of us at times, leading us to take out our frustrations on others who have nothing to do with the source of our irritation. Decreasing overall tension and learning to pause before reacting are some ways to manage your feelings and keep them from spiraling out of control. Bottling things up doesn’t address the cause of the anger, so get it out through:
- venting if you need to, even if it means carrying on a heated conversation by yourself,
- physical activity,
- getting to the root of the stress,
- adjusting your expectations to prevent future disappointment.
Getting Out of Thinking Traps
If you suffer from anxiety, it’s really easy to fixate on little things that don’t really matter and blow them out of proportion. (I believe the appropriate adage is “making mountains out of molehills.”) Our minds focus only on the negatives of a situation, ignoring the possible positives. Sometimes we can blame ourselves for circumstances beyond our control or jump to conclusions, making the world in our head seem much worse than it actually is.
When you feel like that, remind yourself of a few things:
- the possibility that things might actually be a lot better than you imagine,
- that thoughts are only thoughts and not an unshakeable truth,
- to counter the negative voices with positivity and refute them with facts.
Sometimes we are faced with situations that are far different from our expectations or less than desirable, and reckoning with them isn’t so easy. Accepting reality doesn’t mean that we are content with the state of things, but rather, it’s a way to give the negative outcomes less power over us. This gives us enough distance to gain the clarity to begin making plans to fix or change what we can.
Some of MHA’s tips for success include:
- notice when you’re fighting reality,
- remind yourself of what you can and cannot control,
- relax your body with activities like yoga or a calming bath,
- repeat coping statements like “I can’t change what has already happened” or “I can accept things the way they are,”
- understand that radical acceptance takes time and practice to achieve.
Whatever you’re dealing with, know that you’re not alone. Your feelings and problems are valid and deserve attention. And you can get help to change things, maybe not all at once, but a little bit every day. Make regular time for self-care, be gentle with yourself, and be kind to the people around you. You’ve come this far, and you can make a commitment to equipping yourself with the tools you need to maintain good mental health.
You can find mental health resources like screening tools, worksheets, information about where to find help, and other mental health coping tips on the Mental Health America website.