One out of five American adults experiences a mental illness at some point in their lives. Every year, this number increases more and more. In an effort to bring more awareness to this rising issue, the United States began observing Mental Health Awareness Month every May since 1949 making this month an excellent reminder to look out for those around you, such as friends, family, and co-workers, and to stay on the lookout for those who need our help the most.
Mental health is so crucial. It affects our decision-making, zest for life, and overall health. It also determines our outlook on stress and how we manage it. And sometimes, we need to observe or assess changes in our mental health throughout life’s different stages to stay on the straight and narrow.
Unfortunately, the ones who may need help most might be the ones who wage private battles with their demons. To the ones who are fighting silently, rest assured, you’re not alone…
Most people feel ashamed about seeking help, or they don’t know the resources available. I’m currently serving in the United States Marine Corps, and I will proudly say I’ve reached out personally for professional council. It’s so important to realize we’re only humans; we aren’t born straight from the womb with all the tools we need to survive in this sometimes harsh world. The great thing is there are professionals out there ready to help you, and it can be as discreet as you want.
While serving in the Marine Corps, my go-to professional was the Navy Chaplain – someone who promotes not only the spiritual well-being of service members but also mental and emotional well-being.
It was challenging for me, at first, to reach out because I was so afraid to appear weak. After all, being in the Marine Corps can produce a stigma of always having to be “tough.” But how tough are you if you’re not fully-functioning both physically and mentally?
The Chaplain taught me that coming to him was a very strong thing for me to do. He showed me I just needed to arm myself with the proper tools to mentally prepare for any tough situations that come my way.
He also helped me notice signs of distressed individuals – a bit of information I’d like to pass along in case you can possibly help yourself and/or be more aware of those who need help but may be too proud to ask.
Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- A change in character
- Heightened emotions
- An increase in alcohol consumption
- Social withdrawal
- A change in appearance and/or lack of proper hygiene
- Sudden lack of concentration
- Change in eating or sleeping habits
Oftentimes, these signs are minuscule and could be easily overlooked, but if you suspect a loved one is suffering, the best course of action is to simply ask how they’re doing – how they are really doing. Sometimes all someone needs is a person just to care.
If you do notice someone in distress, here are a few activities to help lift their spirits:
- Help them make peace with situations they can’t control
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as controlled breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.
- Exercise regularly to release chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that help improve mood
- Eat healthily
- Encourage regular, positive social interaction
Seeking support is another effective tactic for managing stress that no one should feel guilty about. Here are some resources:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a free hotline to call that is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. (1-800-950-6264)
- Speak to a pastor, reverend, or priest at your local church. (These leaders are very good at helping individuals, and your issues don’t have to rest in religion.
- Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. (You don’t have to be suicidal or have suicidal ideations to call this number. The people who work here are professionals trained to counsel those struggling with mental illness and stress management.)
Again, if you’re feeling sad, depressed, hopeless, or in any way negative about life, you’re not alone. Many, many people have felt this way, and there is someone out there who can relate, talk to you, hear and sympathize with your problems, and help you. Reach out.