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Take Care of Yourself: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

We’ve all been through a lot. And one issue that continues to make headlines? Our mental health. Now is a good time to pause and reflect. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so we want to make sure we recognize a difficult truth.

That includes any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder such as:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Mood disorders, including bipolar disorder

  • Personality disorders

  • Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia

  • Trauma

  • Eating disorders

  • Substance -use disorders

A recent statement by President Joe Biden on Mental Health Awareness Month mentions isolation, sickness, grief, and job loss as contributing factors to declining mental health as well as lack of access to mental health services during difficult times.

But it’s important to remember that you are not alone.

Signs and symptoms

Lee Health psychologists Jacqueline Hidalgo, Psy.D., and Rose Anne Illes, Ph.D., offer a few suggestions and answers to common questions about how you and your family can cope with the fear of the unknown—now, and in the future.

Q: What are the common stress issues you see when a crisis arises, and are those the same as what we are experiencing now with a pandemic?

A: Signs and symptoms associated with stress include:

  • Difficulties with sleep

  • Low energy and motivation

  • Sadness

  • Nervousness

  • Difficulties with concentration

  • Questioning one’s abilities

  • Feeling easily annoyed or irritable

Q: Remember, too, that adults and children handle stress differently.

A: Depending on the age and personality of your child, stress can be handled differently. Children may show:

  • Defiance

  • Disrespect

  • Complaining

  • Fighting

  • Not wanting to leave your side

  • Ignoring

Q: What are the best ways to stay mentally healthy during times of crisis?

A: One of the best things you can do is to practice self-compassion. Be nice to yourself. Ideas for this include:

  • Remain hopeful. Find things to be grateful for. You could start a gratitude journal, or keep notes in a gratitude jar.

  • Use your phone or computer to stay connected with a balance on when to disconnect.

  • Get the facts but monitor the time you spend watching the news,

  • Eat healthy and exercise, maybe not the time to go on a strict diet or exercise regime, but find a way to make small changes such as eating less of the “bad food” or going on walks.

  • Focus on what you can do to stay prepared.

  • Be fun and creative while at home (e.g., dance, listen to music, do small house projects, journal).

  • Setting a routine/structure for the day can combat boredom.

  • Do not smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs to deal with your feelings.

Q: How does mental stress affect our physical health?

A: Our emotional health paired with our physical health make us “healthy.” Stress is normal for our bodies; however, we are generally able to recover from short periods of stress. But stress that continues over a long period of time places more strain to our health.

Mental stress can impact the immune system in many different ways and increase physical illness.

Reach Out and Come Together

Are you or a family member struggling? Remember, too, that your primary care physician or your child’s pediatrician is a perfect place to start the conversation about stress levels and possible mental health issues. A medical expert can advise your next steps including a conversation with a behavioral health expert.

The fact that everyone is experiencing the exact same problem can offer positive benefits,

“We know we are not alone on this one,” Dr. Hidalgo said. “The challenge can be that we are all struggling in one way or another and this can impact the amount of support one can get from others.”

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