May is Mental Health Month, so what does this mean for most people? By the time May arrives, winter doldrums are fading as the days get warmer and longer. The stressful, fattening holidays are over and gardeners are busy. Students are looking forward to the end of the school year and people are planning vacation time. Perhaps it is also a good time for all to reflect on how we are doing – how we are really doing.
Americans account for 5 percent of the world’s population, but consume 75 percent of its prescription drugs, according to the National Institutes of Health. Nearly 70 percent take at least one prescription medication a day. Prescription drug abuse is on the rise and so is heroin use. Alcoholic beverage sales are ever-increasing. Hate crimes, road rage and all forms of bullying affect many. Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are more common than ever, but unfortunately only a small percentage of those affected are able to access treatment.
Mental illness and substance abuse are very common in America today. American society emphasizes individual responsibility for education, health, productivity and financial contribution. At the same time, factors that undermine such responsibilities are overwhelming, such as perpetual debt, loss of human rights, and the prolific promotion of unhealthy foods, alcohol and drugs.
Understanding risk factors
Mental Health Month provides the opportunity to remember that life in America today is different than it has been in the past. Old prejudice and stigma surrounding mental illness and substance abuse no longer apply. Scientific advancements have enabled better understanding of the complex interplay between physical, mental, environmental and social conditions. Although there is no one cause for mental illness, there are many things individuals and families can do to protect themselves from the risks. Risk factors for mental illness and substance abuse can be countered with resilience factors.
Some modern risk factors for mental illness include:
- History of abuse, trauma or witnessing traumatic event
- Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
- Lack of family cohesiveness
- Lack of community cohesiveness
- Social interaction without human contact (overuse of internet, gaming, social media)
Building mental resilience
Countering these risk factors can provide protection or resilience against mental illness. For example, simply eating wholesome foods and exercising can make a tremendous difference. Many resilience factors are interrelated as well, as one often leads to another. Adding exercise, for example, will reduce trouble sleeping and so forth. Other protective measures besides nutrition and exercise include:
- Balanced, healthy lifestyle
- Relaxation techniques (meditation/prayer, mindfulness exercises, breathing, yoga, bath, music, hobbies, journaling)
- Activities toward positive change (peaceful activism, advocacy, lobbying, leading by example)
- Sharing worries and fears with supportive others
- Reaching out for help before things get worse
Small changes can make big differences, for better or for worse. Making small, positive changes toward a healthier lifestyle can make a difference in preventing mental illness. When it feels like things are starting to fall apart no matter what changes you make, speak to a trusted friend, family member, clergy member or health care provider. Help is always available.
Sovereign Health Group of California is an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider, offering several locations in California as well as centers in Utah, Arizona and Florida. For more information on the treatment of drug and alcohol addictions, please call (866) 819-0427.
Written by Dana Connolly, Ph.D., Sovereign Health Group writer