Mental health, just like our physical health, should always be given the care and attention it deserves. Mental health has to do with how we feel, think and act and can have direct effects on our physical health — both are not fixed.

When mental health takes a decline, it can feel isolating, like no one else knows the feelings you are going through. Whether comforting or not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that is statistically untrue:

  • At least 1 in every 5 U.S. adults struggle with mental illness.
  • More than 1 in 5 youth (ages 13-18) have had or still live with some “seriously debilitating” form of mental illness.
  • Nearly 1 in 25 U.S. adults lives with a serious mental illness (severe depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder).

What impacts your mental health?

Certain conditions in a person’s life can cause their mental health to change in severity.

“The term ‘mental health’ implies the absence of illness or disorder,” Christopher M. Palmer, director of McLean’s Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education, told McLean Hospital. “But there are a lot of ways people can be mentally healthy or ill, just like there are many ways to be physically healthy or unwell.”

“Both mental health and mental illness are states of being that are on a spectrum,” Palmer added.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, said there are a number of factors that can affect our mental health, including “Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry,” “Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse” and “Family history of mental health problems.”

People can also suffer from serious mental illnesses that can make every day difficult to function. “Despite common misperceptions, having (a serious mental illness) is not a choice, a weakness, or a character flaw. It is not something that just ‘passes’ or can be ‘snapped out of’ with willpower,” per SAMHSA.

How can you improve your mental health?

Dealing with dips in your mental health is not easy. For those who live with serious mental illnesses, it can be debilitating to constantly feel like you have to battle your illness with no end in sight.

The National Alliance on Mental Health, or NAMI, encourages individuals not to fight it but rather welcome it with “radical acceptance.”

To NAMI, that means “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind,” as well as keeping in mind “the idea that no matter what, you cannot change a situation.”

Instead of fighting it, prepare for it.

“You cannot change the fact that you have a mental illness, so any time you spend trying to ‘get rid of it’ or pretend it doesn’t exist is only draining you of valuable energy. Accept yourself. Accept your condition. Then take the necessary steps to take care of yourself,” per NAMI.

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When to seek professional help

If you think your mental health struggles are getting more severe, seeking a diagnosis may be the best option for improvement.

UR Medicine advises anyone who is dealing with the following issues to seek help from a health care professional:

  • Experiencing out-of-control thoughts and behaviors that are affecting your relationships.
  • Struggling to handle challenges that are put into your life.
  • Alcohol or drugs begin to affect your health and keep you from finishing day-to-day responsibilities.
  • When emotions seem unstable and you need a trusted person to help make decisions.
  • When it feels like not living anymore is the best outcome.

Seeking professional help can take away those feelings of loneliness and misunderstanding and help get you on the uphill track to improving your mental health.

“By focusing on mental health in a proactive and preventative manner, people might be able to avoid or lessen the severity of mental illnesses and disorders or reduce the impairments in other areas of life, such as physical health and work,” per Positive Psychology.

How to help struggling loved ones

At times, it can be obvious when someone we care about is struggling with their mental health, and other times, it may not be so easy to point out — no two people have identical behavioral symptoms.

If it is obvious that someone you know needs help, the Mental Health Foundation advises you to take action immediately with these eight steps:

  1. Create a space with no distractions to give them your full attention.
  2. Let them confide in you as much as they feel comfortable doing.
  3. Avoid telling them what you think their problem is or doubt their feelings.
  4. Ask open-ended questions to help them express their feelings more.
  5. Mention the benefits of self-care.
  6. Show that you’re listening by repeating how they feel and show you’ve understood.
  7. Encourage professional care and help them find ways to receive it.
  8. Be there for them, but give yourself limits to protect your own mental health.

Adding that, “If it is a family member or close friend you are concerned about, they might not want to talk to you. Try not to take this personally: talking to someone you love can be difficult as they might be worried they are hurting you. It is important to keep being open and honest and telling them that you care.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or chatting online at 988lifeline.org.