WACO, Texas — A person's mental health influences how they think, feel and behave in daily life. It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges and recover from life's setbacks and hardships.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a chance to shed light on our emotional, psychological and social well-being. All of these things affects how we think, feel and act.
"I think a lot of Americans are struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues at much higher rates than we usually see," said Katie Chadwell with The Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network in Waco.
A record 5.4 million people took a mental health screening in 2021 and the results found 103% more people said they suffered form mental health issues since 2020, according to Mental Health America.
"Actually, I would be surprised if the rates weren’t even higher than that," Chadwell said. "Mental health and mental illness carry such a stigma in this country that a lot of people are afraid to come forward and ask for help."
Chadwell agreed building mental strength is vital to finding a path to clarity and healthy living.
"This is hard because admitting that we are struggling is often one of the hardest things people can do," Chadwell explained when asked what's the best way to be aware of ones mental health. "I think being in tune with your feelings on a consistent basis instead of suppressing the hard feelings will help you to know when something is different or isn’t right."
Building mental strength is not easy to do and it takes time and won't happen overnight. Psychology Today compared building mental strength to someone going to the gym, giving three tips to people looking to build their mental strength every day.
- Identify three things you’re grateful for by counting your blessings as opposed to your burdens. It could be as simple as clean drinking water from the faucet or appreciating the cool breeze on a warm day. Studies consistently show that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
- Practice mindfulness because it’s impossible to stay strong when you’re rehashing something that happened last week or predicting that horrible things are going to happen tomorrow. Staying present in the moment is crucial while focusing on what's going on around you, what you see, hear and smell, how does your body feel in that moment.
- Act “as if” affords those who try it to behave like the person they want to become while not waiting until you feel different. When you change your behavior, your thoughts and emotions will follow.
Awareness Act, an organization hoping to help people improve their state of mind in hopes of creating a better tomorrow, also suggests letting go of toxic people while also accepting the things you can't change.
Chadwell said the stigma surrounding mental health challenges isn't helped by people being taught to never ask for help. She said there's power in quality over quantity and building a small tribe of people that can be a safety net, so to speak.
"It is not important to have 10 people to talk to when we are struggling; often having 1 person who really cares about us is enough. My advice to people who suffer with anxiety would be to find one person that you can go to when things get tough. Having a consistent person we can talk to helps us feel more comfortable doing so when we are struggling," she explained.
Chadwell acknowledged having face to face conversations aren't always the best for some but offered there are other solutions to help.
"Send an email or write a text message," she offered. "Often, writing things down can seem less intimidating and/or overwhelming when people suffer with anxiety. Find a form of communication that seems most manageable for you and use that."
Chadwell said self-care is the one of the most important things any of us can do while working to build our mental strength and health. While being able to set boundaries with others will allow for prioritizing our different needs, she said how we view ourselves is almost equally important.
"Often we are own toughest critics," Chadwell said. "The way we speak to ourselves is incredibly important. As the old saying goes, “if you hear something enough times, you’re eventually going to believe that it’s true."