How to prioritize your mental health


In this article:

  • May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to take steps that will improve your mental health.

  • More than one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness.

  • You can prioritize mental health by getting an adequate amount of sleep, exercising consistently and being kind to yourself.

Prioritizing your mental health

As recently as a few decades ago, mental health challenges were considered a taboo subject, and many people feared that if they saw a therapist, others would judge them. Since then, the United States has made great strides in normalizing mental health treatment, but we still have a long way to go.

Why mental health matters

Mental health is a combination of a person’s social, emotional and psychological well-being. “It’s an important part of wellness for each person, along with physical health,” says Annelise Manns, Psy.D., a psychologist at Providence Primary Care — Clackamas in Clackamas, Oregon. “We should consider mental health across the lifespan, in the same way we monitor physical and developmental wellness.”

Mental Health Awareness Month

In May, we commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month, which was first recognized in 1949. This is a time for caregivers and communities to come together in supporting behavioral health and overall well-being, because mental health and physical health go hand in hand.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health conditions in the U.S., with millions of Americans managing these conditions every year.

Only about half of those diagnosed with a mental illness get treatment. Mental health remains stigmatized, and those suffering often don’t seek care or have access to care. Mental Health Awareness Month aims to reduce this stigma and open conversations around mental health so more patients can seek care.

Providence is proud to support our patients’ mental health. From educating on suicide prevention to de-stigmatizing voice-hearing, we are committed to caring for every aspect of our patients’ well-being.

Understanding mental health conditions

Mental health conditions can range from anxiety and depression to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia.

Anxiety, depression and more

Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental health conditions.

“Anxiety often causes a pattern of physical experiences, including trouble sleeping, a feeling of stress/pressure, restlessness, at times symptoms of panic, and muscle tightness,” says Dr. Manns. “Along with the physical symptoms can come patterns of worry that are hard to control, a feeling of dread that something bad may happen, and racing thoughts.”

“Depression,” continues Dr. Manns, “often presents with a lowered mood that could be sad or numb, loss of motivation, low energy, fatigue, disrupted sleep (oversleeping or insomnia), and a desire to withdraw from others. Sometimes individuals will also experience a sense of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (NAMI), some of the other most common mental illnesses include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – defined by inattention (trouble staying on task, listening); disorganization (losing materials); and hyperactivity-impulsivity (fidgeting, difficulty staying seated or waiting).
  • Bipolar disorder – causes dramatic shifts in a person's mood, energy and ability to think clearly. Individuals with this disorder experience extreme high and low moods, known as mania and depression. Some people can be symptom-free for many years between episodes.
  • Borderline personality disorder – a pattern of instability in emotions (commonly referred to as dysregulation), interpersonal relationships and self-image. Individuals with BPD can also struggle with impulsivity and self-harm.
  • Dissociative disorders – frequently associated with trauma; can disrupt every area of psychological functioning: consciousness, memory, identity, emotion, motor control and behavior.
  • Eating disorders – the intentional changing of food consumption to the point where physical health or social behaviors are affected.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – persistent, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors that a person feels driven to perform (compulsions) in response to those thoughts.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a set of physiological and psychological responses. It can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, rape, war/combat or something similar.
  • Psychosis – disruptions to a person’s thoughts and perceptions that make it difficult for them to recognize what is real and what isn’t.
  • Schizophrenia – interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. It also causes people to lose touch with reality, often in the form of hallucinations and delusions.

Tips for prioritizing your mental health

Everyone faces daily stressors that can impact their mental health. Managing your mental wellness means you can be resilient when these stressors affect you so you can be at your best.

Some ways to support your mental health include:

  • Being kind to yourself when you are feeling stressed.
  • Checking in with yourself and acknowledging your feelings.
  • Finding times throughout the day to pause and reset, including through journaling, meditation, deep breathing or self-talk.
  • Reaching out to loved ones and friends.
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Participating in regular exercise, aiming for 20 minutes of elevated heart rate as many days as possible.
  • Maintaining good nutrition and a healthy balanced diet.
  • Spending time in nature.

Supporting mental health of children and teens

Unfortunately, it’s no wonder that children are experiencing a mental health crisis. From the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to all-too-frequent school shootings, kids are living in a challenging and confusing time for their social well-being. For many children, schools are the ideal place to recognize and address mental health conditions in a positive environment. Mental health issues can harm children’s ability to learn and set these kids back. However, many schools lack funding to train teachers or hire staff to help children with mental health challenges.

Parents can support children’s mental health by starting conversations early. “By talking about mental health and feelings, parents make it clear to their kids that mental health is a topic they can be open about,” says Dr. Manns. “These conversations help lower the stigma of mental health and encourage kids to go to their parents when they feel they need help with their mental health.”

Some strategies parents can try include:

  • Being around to talk — regularly and without screens.
  • Eating meals together to encourage regular conversation and check-ins.
  • Encouraging “mental health days” like regular sick days.
  • Modeling meditation and mindfulness.
  • Putting exercise on the schedule in their daily life.

When to seek professional help

If you suspect someone you love may be suffering from a mental health concern, it can be helpful to watch for changes in mood, comments or behavior. “For example,” says Dr. Manns, “if someone becomes more withdrawn, seems to be consistently down or discouraged, loses interest in things they would generally enjoy, and makes a lot of comments of feeling hopeless, they may be experiencing depression and benefit from support. In children and teens, examples of what this could look like may be increased irritability, tearfulness, changes to sleep, school refusal and changes to eating patterns.”

Supporting loved ones with mental health issues

According to Dr. Manns, there are several ways in which you can help loved ones who are experiencing mental health issues access resources.

  • Call their health insurance for a list of in-network therapists.
  • Visit the Psychology Today website to find a health care provider.
  • Access county resources — most counties have community mental health clinics where care is available.
  • Call 988 if they are having a mental health crisis.
  • Look up their county’s mental health crisis line.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, which means you should be getting checkups just as often.

Contributing caregiver

Annelise Manns, Psy.D., a psychologist at Providence Primary Care – Clackamas in Clackamas, Oregon

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.