Your mental health affects virtually every area of your life. Mental health comprises your psychological, emotional, and social well-being, affecting your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It also determines how you see the world, handle stress, relate to other people, and your decision-making processes.
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Having good mental health is an integral component of living a healthy, productive, balanced, and happy life. It can improve your productivity and effectiveness in daily activities at work and in social situations.
It is natural for your mental health to change over time depending on your life experiences. Factors that can have a negative impact on your mental health include:
Biological factors that affect brain chemistry
Family history and genetics
Trauma or abuse
Working long hours
Experiencing a financial or economic hardship
Although often used interchangeably, the terms mental health and mental illness have different meanings. For example, a person can have poor mental health without being diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person who has a mental illness may experience periods of good mental health where they are happy and productive.
Your mental health also has an impact on your physical health. Research shows that people who have depression are at a higher risk of developing severe, long-term medical conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
In the US, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The event aims to reduce and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness by raising awareness about different mental health conditions and encouraging people who live with mental illness to share their experiences.
Every year, the month is dedicated to Americans who suffer from depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions to provide them with tools and strategies to maintain good mental health and wellness. Mental Health Awareness Month also brings attention to suicide risks and rates and aims to empower people to seek treatment in order to recover.
While good mental health is important at any time, the month of May is a time to show extra support for the cause to gain a deeper understanding and empathy.
Mental Health Awareness Month was started in 1949 by the Mental Health America organization, then known as the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, and later as the National Mental Health Association.
The organization was founded by Clifford Whittingham Beers, born in 1876 in Connecticut. Beers were one of five children, all of whom suffered from mental illness and psychological issues. Eventually, all five siblings, including Beers, were committed to mental institutions. During his hospitalization, Beers realized that the mental health field had gained a notorious reputation for bias, malpractice, and maltreatment.
Beers left the institution in 1905 and published a book in 1908, A Mind That Found Itself, about his experience. Beers’ book had an immediate impact upon publication and continues to be a bestseller today, assisting the US mental health reform movement.
As Beers gained support from the medical community, he formed the National Committee for Mental Hygiene. Its mission was to ensure that people dealing with mental health issues received the care they needed and deserved and to support mental health patients to let them know that they were not alone in their fight against their disease.
Every year since 1949, a new theme is selected for Mental Health Awareness Month. For instance, in 2014, the theme was "Mind Your Health,” in 2016 it was "Mental Illness Feels Like," and in 2018 it was "Fitness 4Mind4Body.
In 2021, the organization chose the theme "Tools2Thrive" to address the increased mental health issues related to the global pandemic. The theme focused on providing practical tools that people could use to improve their mental health and to adapt and cope regardless of their personal situation.
During Mental Health Awareness Month, there is a full roster of activities attended by the community, as well as politicians, celebrities, and other public figures. Media coverage of these events has helped to further promote mental health awareness and provide valuable resources for the community.
There are several ways that you can get involved and show your support during Mental Health Awareness Month:
Wear a lime green ribbon and give them to your family, friends, and colleagues to wear too.
Offer support to friends and family members who open up about their struggles with mental health.
If you live with mental illness, share your story. Sharing your personal experience with mental conditions can be a powerful way to take steps towards recovery, get support, and help others in a similar situation.
Take a mental health test. Online screening is an easy way to determine if you have symptoms of a mental health condition and understand how you can improve your mental health.
Share support and raise awareness on social media. Connect with family, friends, and acquaintances and start positive conversations about the importance of mental health and ending the stigma.
In addition to Mental Health Awareness Month, there are several other noteworthy mental health initiatives, including:
Mental Illness Awareness Week
Mental Illness Awareness Week takes place during the first full week of October. Launched by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in 1990, its mission is to educate people and raise awareness about mental illness.
Mental health advocates and organizations from across the US join forces during this week to promote community outreach and educate the public on mental health conditions.
World Mental Health Day
World Mental Health Day is celebrated worldwide on October 10. It was first recognized in 1992 as an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, an international mental health organization with members from over 150 countries.
Supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), government health departments, and civil society organizations across the globe, World Mental Health Day is an international effort to increase mental health awareness.
National Prevention Week
Mental health issues and conditions are often associated with a higher risk of substance abuse. Statistics show that people with anxiety disorder¹, a condition that affects over 18% of the US population, are approximately two to three times as likely to have problems with addiction as those who don't have anxiety.
National Prevention Week was created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, or SAMHSA, to promote year-round prevention of substance abuse and promote mental health awareness.
SAMHSA uses its platform year-round to provide ideas, tools, and resources to help individuals and communities address substance abuse and mental health issues in their lives and communities.
During the second week of May, the organization recognizes the work that has been accomplished in communities throughout the year to inspire action, prevent substance abuse, and stress the importance of positive mental health.
Good mental health positively affects your day-to-day quality of life, relationships, job performance, and more. It also enables you to adapt to and cope with challenges and changes in your life.
Initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Month help to reduce the stigma still attached to mental illness by educating the public and bringing awareness to mental health conditions and their treatment.