Most of us intuitively know what scientific research is now proving: human beings are complex organisms, and it is difficult to maintain our physical health if we do not take care of our mental health—and visa versa. When we are stressed out, we are more likely to get sick. When we’re in physical pain, it affects our emotions and cognitive functions (have you ever tried to concentrate with a migraine?). The mind-body connection is clear and the sooner we recognize this and take care of both our physical and mental health, the better off we’ll be.
Although many of us do not hesitate to seek treatment for medical conditions, we are often less likely to seek help for common, treatable mental illnesses. Tragically, untreated mental illness sometimes results in suicide. In Lake and Mendocino Counties, our suicide rates remain among the highest in California.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in every five adults in the U.S. experiences a mental health condition in any given year. An estimated 40 million American adults (almost 1 in 10) suffer from anxiety disorders—the most common mental illness—and another 16 million people (about 1 in 20) suffer from depression (www.adaa.org). Both conditions are treatable, yet in the case of anxiety disorders, for example, only about a third of those who suffer seek treatment.
A healthy lifestyle can prevent the onset or worsening of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, as well as reducing the risks associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems. It can also play a big role in helping people recover from these conditions. Eating healthy foods, managing stress, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can go a long way toward living a longer, healthier life. Recent research has connected nutrition and gut health with mental health (for more information, visit www.choosemyplate.gov).
To reduce stress, activities like meditation, yoga, spending time with friends or even just taking a walk can be very helpful. And consistently getting a good night’s sleep not only reduces stress, but provides you with enough physical and mental energy to take on daily responsibilities.
Since 1949, an organization called Mental Health America has been highlighting the month of May to build awareness and to promote prevention, identification and treatment of mental health disorders. This year’s theme is Fitness (#4Mind4Body), which aims to raise awareness about the connection between begin physically fit and mentally healthy.
Mental illnesses are real and treatment can often lead to recovery. Living a healthy lifestyle may not be easy, but by looking at your physical and mental health, you can improve your overall health and well-being. Additional information and resources can be found at www.mentalhealthamerica.net.
MCHC is proud to join in the efforts of Mental Health America again this year by promoting mental health during the month of May. At MCHC Health Centers, Behavioral Health specialists work with medical professionals to assess a person’s overall health, physical and emotional. We are here to help, not judge.
Ben Anderson, LCSW, is the director of Behavioral Health at MCHC Health Centers, a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.