Every May, the National Alliance on Mental Health reminds individuals and organizations to focus on the role mental health plays in overall quality of life. Mental Health Awareness Month was created to raise awareness, fight stigma, provide support, and advocate for policies that support individuals and families living with mental illness.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health encompasses ones cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being and plays a large role in overall health and wellness. Mental health impacts how we think, feel, interact with others, handle stress, and make decisions, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
COVID-19’s impact on mental health
The theme this year – ‘You Are Not Alone’ – reflects the isolation many have felt throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantine, working from home, job loss, financial hardship, missing family holiday celebrations – most Michigan residents have struggled to cope with feelings of isolation and maintain positive mental health over the past year.
Stress and worry over the pandemic are resulting in difficulty sleeping, eating, increases in alcohol consumption or substance use, and worsening health conditions, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll. In fact, a January 2021 survey found that about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a significant increase from 1 in 10 adults who reported these symptoms in 2019.
Strategies for maintaining positive mental health
Mindfulness is a powerful tool. Data suggests mindfulness-based intervention among patients with severe mental illness can improve quality of life and impact the frequency and intensity of negative symptoms. Journaling, meditation, and reflection are great contributors toward achieving positive mental health.
Any form of exercise is a natural stress reliver. Daily activity can increase the circulation of endorphins throughout the body and distract from daily worries, explains Mayo Clinic. That’s why physical activity should be an important step in everyone’s stress management plan.
- Aim for 30 minutes of activity every day. Go for a walk or run, try an at-home yoga session, ride your bike around the block, etc.
Manage stress to avoid burnout:
If you have been working from home, chances are you experienced cabin fever at some point. While the commute is shorter and the coffee is likely better, there are a new set of challenges that come with working remotely. Due to a loss of work-life balance, 69% of remote employees are experiencing crippling burnout symptoms according to a recent survey. Strategies for burnout include:
- Setting strict in-office and out-of-office hours.
- Taking time off. Use all your PTO, even if you don’t plan to travel or take a vacation.
- Being honest with your manager if you are feeling overwhelmed with your workload.
Seek help when needed:
Self-care and mindfulness strategies are an effective way to manage health and well-being, however, sometimes these strategies alone are not enough. It is important to recognize when you or someone you love may benefit from seeking professional help. Signs include:
- Changes in appearance and self-care.
- Difficulty working with others.
- Quick to anger.
- Withdrawing socially.
- Frequently late or missing work.
- Poor work performance.
- Being more negative.
Mental Health Benefits for Blue Cross Blue Shield Members
How employers can help
The number one barrier to seeking mental health treatment is stigma. Employers have the power to change that within their organization by prompting conversations about the importance of taking care of yourself mentally. Frequently promote your company’s EAP and always be available when an employee who wants to talk. Be prepared to share strategies such as those listed in this article as well resources for professional help if needed.