Most people find it easy to talk about their physical health, even with relative strangers. Heart rates, calories burned, miles run, diets tried — all are common fodder in the gym, in the park and in online forums.
Mental health is different. Many prefer the anonymity online platforms provide for what’s considered a deeply personal issue to be discussed with close family or friends, if anyone. The stigma of mental illness is still strong enough that it’s easier for those with anxiety and difficult emotions to feel more comfortable keeping it under wraps.
Our mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being, and determines how we cope with stress, communicate with others and make choices that affect every area of our lives:
We can be too depressed to see the point of going for a walk or run, too anxious to want to go to the doctor for a checkup, or too dependent on emotional eating to feel like we can stop. Anxiety can quickly rack up a significant sleep deficit that can affect us in an untold number of negative ways, including a weaker immune response. Mental illness shortens lives.
The Pan American Health Organization reported in 2019 that mental health issues are the largest single cause of disability in the world, responsible for 20% of healthy workdays lost to disability and that globally, only 10% of the population gets the help it needs for mental health conditions. Those who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder earn up to 40% less than those who are not, and people experiencing the stressors, particularly at a young age, are more likely to suffer from a mental illness.
One family member’s mental health struggles affects everyone else in the household, whether it manifests in alcoholism, depression or serious mental illness such as schizophrenia. The stress of related issues like job loss and instability can leave its mark to the point that the whole family needs to go into recovery with the one needing mental illness treatment.
Quality of life
It may go without saying but suffering from mental health issues just isn’t fun. They are devastating to our level of happiness, our relationships, our careers and our ability to continue dealing with what seem like insurmountable problems.
We all need to tend to our mental health just as much as our physical health, even if we’re not among the 46% of Americans who will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives, according to a 2005 Harvard study.
Yoga, meditation, physical activity, nurturing family and social connections, avoiding abuse of alcohol and other drugs and even forcing yourself to smile more are all ways to fight anxiety, stress, depression and other negativity that make your life more difficult.
And don’t be afraid to reach out for more help, whenever you need it. Help is out there, and you are not alone.