It’s an incredibly windy October day. In Minnesota, most leaves continue to resiliently hold to their branches given a warm autumn. We all like autumn leaves that gracefully grow and evolve with the seasons, easily adapting to the changing conditions of spring, summer, and fall…
Life calls us to be adaptive and resilient in the same way the seasons shape and ultimately transform leaves. Some people, like myself, tend to struggle in late fall and the winter months with the characteristic low energy and even lower moods provoked by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Perhaps it’s no accident that Mental Illness Awareness Week, National Depression and Health Screening Month, and World Mental Health Day all occur in October.
While awareness and prioritization of mental health has increased and stigma has decreased over time, mental illness is still widespread. In a recent national survey from HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the rate of U.S. children (ages 3 to 17) with current, diagnosed emotional disorders increased from 8 to 10.2 percent between 2016 and 2020. Significant increases were seen in youth ages 12 to 17 especially in Hispanic and non-Hispanic White children.
Just as it is vital for individuals to be adaptive and resilient, professions must also be able to adapt and change. The COVID-19 pandemic created major challenges for the provision of traditional mental health services. In the blink of an eye, it became unsafe to engage in face-to-face therapy or evaluation, and mental health providers had to adapt seemingly overnight to a new reality. Telehealth instantly became the norm for health care, and mental health was no different. Providers who may never have considered engaging in teletherapy services suddenly had few options; they had to quickly adapt to using videoconferencing or telephone to engage their clients; and clients had to adjust to talking virtually instead of sharing physical space with an empathetic therapist. While there were significant concerns about the effectiveness of remote services, there are now a variety of studies showing that teletherapy can be very effective and many providers are embracing this new way of working with their clients. By embracing the changes and finding ways to adapt and adjust, mental health professionals have illustrated the importance of embracing transformation.
Fortunately, mental health is something we can foster daily. Below are a few strategies I’ve found useful as well as some suggestions from Dr. Jacobs:
- Ask for help. We don’t have to struggle alone, and help is available. Schedule a check-up, find a counselor, or talk with a trusted friend.
- Take inventory of your lifestyle. No amount of counseling or medication can “fix” a lifestyle that is detrimental to your overall health, including your mental health. Eating healthy foods, engaging in physical activity, and getting adequate sleep are essential foundations of self-care. Ask yourself, are the people, activities, and habits in your life health building or health breaking? And, what are some ways you might decrease stress at work and at home?
- Monitor progress. Strong mental health is something to pursue daily. Take note of any patterns you observe and address mental health declines swiftly.
- Mind your mindset. Perspective is key to managing mental health. How much gratitude are you expressing daily? To what extent are your beliefs about people, events, or experiences getting in the way of your peace of mind? Counselors that use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other modalities can help you retrain your brain to think in new, healthier ways.
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Meditation, yoga, and mindful breathing exercises can help you learn to slow down your thinking and your physical reactions to stress, allowing you to create more harmony in your body and your mind.
- Stay connected. Surround yourself with people who bring you joy, either in-person or virtually. Schedule a video call with an old friend or family members as a way to share stories and reinforce the positive connections in your life.
- Be your own advocate. When asking for help, sometimes the first source of support is inadequate or unhelpful. Reach out to other health systems, therapists, etc. until you access resources that help you feel better.
- Love yourself. Love yourself enough to invest in your own well-being. Perhaps take time to engage in small pleasurable activities throughout the day or build mastery in a hobby you enjoy. Whatever you choose, allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate – and remember, you are worth it.