Each May, mental health professionals unite to raise awareness and promote education about mental health and mental illnesses. Mental Health Awareness Month aims to reduce stigma, support, and encourage conversations surrounding mental health topics.
For a bit of history, the observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, began in the United States in 1949 and was initiated by Mental Health America (MHA), a leading community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing mental health issues. Since then, it has gained recognition globally, with many countries’ organizations, mental health advocates, healthcare professionals, and communities coming together to increase understanding of mental health conditions, to promote the importance of seeking help, and to encourage individuals to prioritize their mental well-being.
With a global increase in mental health awareness, many are discussing how to improve mental health and consciously prioritizing well-being and self-care for the first time. This article will unpack common signs of mental illness, encourage making mental health a priority every month (not just in May), and outline sixteen ways to care for your mental health, with or without official diagnoses.
How to Know if You Have a Mental Illness
Mental illness is complex and difficult to diagnose, especially on your own. It can encompass a range of disorders that affect a person’s mood, thought patterns, and behaviors. It can disrupt one’s day-to-day functioning, cause physical ailments, and prevent a person from living to their fullest potential. A mental health professional can help you understand whether you have a mental illness and help you cope with and manage your symptoms. Generally speaking, if you or a loved one experience a change in moods, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, and those changes affect your daily life, and last for longer than two weeks, a mental health problem that requires professional support may be present.
Symptoms That Can Signal a Mental Health Disorder
Every mental health condition is unique, with varying symptoms and influences on a person’s life. However, some of the more common signs of mental illness include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Constantly feeling burnt out or useless
- Severe, ongoing feelings of guilt or shame
- Loss of self-esteem and high sensitivity to others’ opinions
- Overwhelming or excessive worry and fear
- Sudden, intense fear or panic – often accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, faintness, and dizziness
- Unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or generalized muscle aches
- Chronic fatigue and lack of energy/motivation (i.e. feeling too tired to do things you love)
- Lack of enjoyment in previous interests and once-loved activities
- Extreme mood swings, which involve extreme “high” periods of euphoria followed by intense lows (this may look like mania followed by suicidal thoughts)
- Uncontrollable emotions
- Inability to cope with stress effectively
- Inability to carry out daily activities due to emotions and stress
- Social isolation—including social phobia or the desire to be alone
- Difficulty interacting with others
- Loss of touch with reality
- Confused thinking or problems concentrating
- Flashbacks of traumatic experiences or nightmares
- Frequent and strong feelings of anger and irritability
- Violent behaviors
- Hallucinations, or seeing things and hearing voices that other people do not
- Sudden or significant changes in sleeping habits
- Sudden or significant changes in eating habits, including increased hunger or lack of appetite
- Dramatic changes in weight
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Substance abuse, in efforts to cope with difficult symptoms
In children and adolescents, other common signs of mental illness might include:
- Changes in school performance, as well as skipping school
- Defying rules, boundaries, and adult figures – frequent disobedience
- Hyperactive behavior
- Trouble with learning and concentrating
- Frequent nightmares
- Excessive worry and fear, often without rational cause (e.g. wanting to avoid school)
- Frequent temper tantrums
Signs of mental illness will often appear early in life, most before the age of 25. Parents should be aware of these potential symptoms, which typically emerge during adolescence.
16 Tips to Improve Mental Health
Whether or not you have a diagnosed mental health disorder, everyone should be caring regularly for their mental health. No exceptions. Here are sixteen tips that answer the question, “How do I improve my mental health?”
Whether you’re battling a difficult mental illness or feeling the emotional rollercoaster of everyday life, each strategy for promoting mental health and well-being is a step in the right direction.
#1. Get Enough Sleep.
Adequate sleep is essential for overall well-being. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to help restore your body and mind.
#2. Discover a New Hobby.
Engaging in enjoyable hobbies can provide a sense of fulfillment, reduce stress, and promote creativity.
#3. Eat Well.
A balanced diet plays a crucial role in mental health. Focus on consuming nutritious foods that support brain function, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
#4. Power Down the Electronics.
Regular breaks from electronic devices, especially before bedtime, can improve sleep quality and reduce screen-related stress.
#5. Volunteer in Your Community.
Volunteering benefits others and promotes a sense of purpose, social connection, and personal satisfaction.
#6. Speak to a Therapist.
Seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can provide valuable support, guidance, and coping strategies for managing mental health challenges.
#7. Go for a Walk.
Physical exercise, including walking, releases endorphins, which can boost mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
#8. Sit in the Sunshine.
Spending time outdoors and soaking up sunlight helps increase vitamin D levels and may improve mood and overall well-being.
#9. Care for Plants.
Gardening or tending to indoor plants can be a calming and rewarding activity that promotes relaxation and reduces stress.
#10. Practice Deep Breathing.
Deep breathing exercises can help activate the body’s relaxation response, reduce anxiety, and increase focus and clarity.
#11. Drink More Water.
Staying hydrated is essential for brain function and overall health. Make sure to drink enough water throughout the day.
#12. Listen to Music.
Music has a powerful impact on mood. Listen to uplifting or calming music that resonates with you to improve your emotional state.
#13. Read Something Uplifting.
Reading uplifting books, inspirational quotes, or positive news can help shift your mindset and promote a positive outlook.
#14. Try a HIIT Workout.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts can improve physical and mental health by increasing endorphin levels and boosting overall fitness.
#15. Share Your Feelings.
Open up to a trusted friend or family member about your thoughts and emotions. Sharing can provide support and perspective.
#16. Start a Journal.
Writing in a journal can be a therapeutic outlet for self-expression, reflection, and stress reduction.
Everyone’s mental health journey is unique, so it’s essential to explore different strategies and find what works best for you. Incorporating these activities into your routine can contribute to improved mental well-being.
Make Mental Health a Habit
While May is Mental Health Awareness Month, making mental health care a habit involves incorporating regular practices and activities into your daily routine that promote mental well-being. Along with the tips above, consider the following suggestions to turn mental health care into a lifelong habit.
- Create a routine. Develop a daily or weekly routine that includes activities that support mental health, such as exercise, meditation, journaling, reading, hobbies, and spending time with loved ones.
- Start small. Start by incorporating small, manageable actions into your routine to avoid feeling overwhelmed and increase the likelihood of success. For example, start with a 10-minute meditation session or a short walk in nature.
- Use reminders. Set reminders or alarms on your phone or calendar to remind you to engage in mental health care activities to maintain consistency and ensure you don’t forget to take care of yourself.
- Find accountability. Share mental health care goals and routines with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist to stay accountable and provide support. This can help you stay committed to mental health care habits.
- Practice self-reflection. Reflect on how your mental health care activities are impacting your overall well-being and adjust your routine as needed to ensure it remains effective and aligned with your goals.
- Seek professional help when needed. Seeking professional help is essential for mental health care, and a mental health professional can provide guidance and support if you are experiencing persistent or severe mental health issues.
- Be patient and kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself, celebrate your progress, and be kind to yourself if you have setbacks. Mental health care is a lifelong journey, and every step you take is important.
To learn more about mental health disorders or to seek the help of a mental health professional, do not hesitate to call Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider with both inpatient and outpatient programs for young men and women and adolescents. Call 877-581-1793 to speak with a treatment specialist today.