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Tools to Improve your Mental Health

May 13, 2020

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this year, it falls during a unique and uncertain time and when much of the world is navigating how to respond to the current situation. This emphasizes the need for us to take care of ourselves, our neighbors and our loved ones. Here are three resources Command Education recommends you use to educate yourself and become better attuned with mental health.

Mental Health America (MHA): Track your daily and weekly habits and activities

You can create healthy and positive habits to take care of and monitor your mental health during this time. If you have existing mental health conditions, have been severely impacted by the pandemic, or if you yourself are  “at risk,” this time may evoke many anxious and negative feelings that may be hard to manage. And that’s okay. Journaling and tracking your thoughts, habits, and activities can train you to manage these feelings and emotions and better take care of yourself. In fact, several studies have confirmed the powerful impact journaling has on mental health – a 2017 study conducted on chronically anxious Michigan State University students showed that students who wrote down and expressed their thoughts and feelings performed better on a task compared to students who simply wrote what they had done the day before. Journaling can have a positive impact not only on how you perform your daily tasks but also on how you manage your everyday emotions.

The biggest question when it comes to journaling is, how can I start?

Mental Health America (MHA) lists out various strategies you can use to help you “own your feelings.” Finding a way to match a feeling to a description or learning to take ownership of your thoughts and feelings are some of the first steps when it comes to becoming attuned to your mental health. One of the ways you can take ownership of your feelings is by building your vocabulary on emotions and feelings. This suggestion is one that many experts like Dr. Marc Brackett, who is the founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, has endorsed. According to Dr. Brackett, most emotions fall under the “bad-sad-glad trilogy.” Mental Health America also suggests that the most common emotions can be categorized as “good, bad, sad, mad, or fine.”

We tend to generalize our emotions, rather than dissect and analyze why we may be experiencing them. To better understand our emotions. MHA suggests, “writing down as many ‘feeling’ words as you can think of” and to “think of a time that you felt that way.” For instance, you write down happy and then recall your last birthday when you were surrounded by friends and family. You can also jot down words like anxious or nervous, and associate those feelings with times you were waiting to receive a test score or hear back about an audition. As you do this exercise, be mindful of what made you feel that way and how you can respond to those feelings in the future.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Reach out to people in your community

Establishing community has become important now more than ever. Having a group of people you can reach out to, whether they are close friends or family members, can be an invaluable resource during this time.

Finding a community while social distancing is challenging. However, there are numerous resources available online if you need someone to talk to. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, is just one of many resources available that offers a helpline for people of all ages. You can call or email the helpline to speak with trained and knowledgeable individuals who can help direct you to resources or, just to listen.

Increasing access and availability of tools such as helplines and chat rooms can encourage people to find their communities and plug into support groups. Support groups are a great way to connect with individuals who may share similar experiences. You can find a list of different support groups and how to get in touch with them on this website.

National Institute of Mental Health: Educate yourself to learn more about mental health awareness and language

Much of the language on mental health awareness emphasizes inclusivity and education, and during Mental Health Awareness Month, we should be cognizant of how we describe mental health. Raising awareness about mental health is all about understanding the language used to describe mental health and how to support those who experience different mental health conditions.

The National Institute of Mental Health, otherwise known as the NIMH, has compiled several resources for the general public to use in order to educate themselves and learn how mental conditions have impacted others. The NIMH explains what mental health and mental illness are and what constitutes different mental health conditions. The NIMH also reports how different mental health conditions are manifested and the prevalence of different conditions among adults and adolescents. It’s also important to understand that not all mental health conditions are publicly visible. For instance, if you have a friend who lives with Bipolar Disorder Type II, they may not always experience hypomanic or depressive episodes around you or in public. However, it’s still important to validate their experiences and take them seriously if they do open to you.

Becoming educated on different mental health conditions and what they constitute help us both describe and respond to mental health better. Many mental health advocacy and awareness organizations have emphasized the importance of language and how words are used to describe different conditions. For instance, Mental Health America encourages using “person-first” or “person-centered” language when it comes to describing and identifying how people experience mental health.

Mental Health America states,“It is important that people are seen first as people and not seen as their mental health condition. People are not Schizophrenic, Bipolar, or Borderline. People are not cases or illnesses to be managed.” This means that when describing someone who has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, we should use person-centered language means identifying them as “a person living with Schizophrenia” or “a person with a mental health condition.” This too might make it easier for people without chronic mental illnesses to express their mental state. If you’re struggling with opening up to others about your mental health during this time, try saying “I’ve been feeling so anxious lately” or “I’m starting to feel depressed” instead of “I am anxious” or “I am depressed.” That way, you don’t take on the full weight of that stigma and also don’t lock yourself into that state of mind even more than you already are.

This is central to what MHA identifies as The Recovery Model – “placing the person at the center and above all other aspects of the treatment process,” which should dictate our general attitudes towards mental health in our society.

Mental health is unfortunately still stigmatized and remains a taboo topic for many. Mental Health Awareness Month strives to move past the stigmas related to mental health conditions and how we, as a society, can increase visibility and access to resources. Take some time today to reflect on your feelings and emotions, connect with someone, or learn more about mental health.

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