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What is mental health?

Mental health is our overall mental well being.  It encompasses emotional, psychological and social well-being.  The state of our mental health affects our resiliency in times of stress,  self-esteem,  relationships/ability to empathize with others, productivity and goes hand in hand with physical health.  

Many factors can contribute to the status of our mental health.  Our environment can be a large contributor.  The World Health Organization reported that social, economic, geopolitical and environmental circumstances – including poverty, violence, inequality and environmental deprivation can affect our mental health.  Events that destabilize our life such as a natural disaster, global pandemic or loss of a loved one can also contribute.  Biological factors like a chemical imbalance or dealing with long term chronic illness are also contributors.  

Because so many things can contribute to the state of our mental health, it can and will change over time.  What is important to remember is poor mental for an extended amount of time can lead to mental health disorders therefore it is important to be mindful of how we are feeling and to reach out when we are struggling. 

Poor mental health and mental health disorders are NOT the same!

Although related, they are not the same.   Mental health is in reference to our general emotional, psychological and social well-being.  Mental health disorder or mental illness on the other hand is specific and diagnosable.  A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.  Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental health disorder can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). 


Mental health disorders are one of the most common health conditions in the United States.  The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health reported that approximately 1 in 5 adults living with a mental health disorder and 1 and 5 adolescents are currently or have experienced a debilitating mental health disorder.

What can we do to improve our mental health?

Achieving good mental health is very individualized.  What works for some may not work for you. Or you might find yourself implementing several approaches.  

Mental and physical health are connected. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, prolonged poor mental health can increase the risk of developing physical health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  Likewise, improve your physical health can have positive affect on your mental health.  Getting more exercise, sleeping well and maintaining a health diet are lifestyle changes that will reduce anxiety, improve mood/self esteem, increase energy levels and ability to focus.   

Avoid self medicating.  

When you are experiencing poor mental health or mental health disorder symptoms, drugs and alcohol can make things worse and often lead to substance misuse.  

Instead develop healthy coping skills.

Developing healthy coping skills is pivotal to maintaining good mental health.  Stress is a huge contributor to mental health for many people.  If work is where you experience the most amount of stress, creating clearly defined boundaries between work and personal can help keep the stress of work from infiltrating your home life.  Are you giving yourself time to recharge?  Breaks are important!  Whether it is the annual family vacation or dinner with friends and family on the weekends, having time to be with loved ones can be restorative.  

Sometimes we have to be reminded that we can remove or remove ourselves from our stressors.  If the news lately has been stressing you out and causing you to feel anxious, it is okay to take a break from watching, reading or listening to the news.  

Many people turn to nature to help cope with stress.  Spending time in your garden, going on a walk at the park or camping and hiking all ways to connect with nature and disconnect from stress.

If you are feeling down or discouraged, creating a gratitude/accomplishment journal can help put your efforts in perspective.  Many people journal to help process their feelings in a safe, self reflective way.

Make time for self-care.

Self-care is not selfish.  Taking time for yourself is necessary.  Doing something you enjoy cannot only help you recharge and provide a great sense of accomplishment and joy.  Self care is not limited to a spa day or a pedicure.  It is incredibly individualized.  The key is to create a realistic and effective plan.  And having a plan set up makes it easy to pull activities during challenging times.  Mental Health First Aid provides 8 different categories to help develop a self-care plan of programs and activities that you feel safe and are important to you: intellectual, emotional, occupational, environmental, community, physical, financial and spiritual. 

Lastly, it is okay to ask for help.​​
Whether it is help with coming up with how to implement exercise in your lifestyle, support for alcohol misuse, tips on healthy coping skills, it is okay to reach out to a loved one or a professional.  

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