Center for Family Health column: Normalizing mental health

By Leon Puttler

JACKSON, MI – Most of us pay more attention to our physical health than our mental health.

We visit the dentist twice a year to make sure our teeth and gums are healthy. We see medical professionals on a regular basis to make sure our bodies are cared for and working properly.

But we often hesitate when it comes to our mental health.

While thinking about mental health is becoming more common, there is still stigma attached to it. We are often concerned about being judged or ridiculed by our friends, families and co-workers. We also are sometimes fearful of being seen as weak if we have feelings of depression, anxiety or other psychological issues.

Thoughts enter our mind that we just need to be tougher.

But pretty much everyone experiences problems in their lives at one time or another. It is important that we address these issues like we do our physical health through prevention and treatment.

Caring for our mental and physical health go hand in hand because they are connected and influence each other.

Stress and depression can impact the functioning of our heart and other organs. Thyroid problems, coping with chronic illness and other physical problems can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Our minds and bodies work together. When one heals the other often follows, or at least improves. We need to care for them both.

During the past two years we have faced an unprecedented amount of change, adversity and uncertainty throughout the world. Thus, it is natural and normal that dealing with so much disruption in our lives can cause feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Those of you with children have likely noticed this the most. We’ve been through a lot, and we need to monitor our mental health.

Awareness is often the first part of this process.

Scientists are discovering that mindfulness (a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations) can improve physical and mental health in several ways.

You can use Google to find some mindfulness activities you might find helpful. And importantly, please seek professional assistance if you find your mental health is declining.

Making our mental health a priority in our overall care helps us to be the best versions of us that we can be.

Please make your mental health a priority. We can all work together to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues even more. We all deserve to be our best selves. Find your path to get there.

– Leon Puttler, Ph.D., is a clinical and research psychologist who works for the Center for Family Health, 505 N. Jackson St. and for the University of Michigan. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Research Society on Alcoholism.

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