The first week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week. Hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the goal of Mental Health Awareness week is to educate the public about the importance of mental health, fight the stigma surrounding mental health care and provide support to the millions of Americans living with a mental health condition.1 

At Imerman Angels, our goal is to provide psychosocial support to people facing cancer and their families. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer patients, families and caregivers additionally face mental health conditions including anxiety, depression and feelings of increased distress.2 While our organization does not provide professional mental health services (although we do have two social workers on our Programs Team), our surveys have shown that connecting with someone who has lived through a similar experience, like an Imerman Angels Mentor Angel, can help reduce the effects of conditions like depression and anxiety.

We all need to pay attention to our mental health needs, take care of ourselves and our families and to seek help when needed.

What is mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.3

Mental health can impact anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in a given year, one in five, or 18.5% of American adults will experience a mental illness. Some of the most common mental illnesses include depression and bipolar disorders, anxiety, schizophrenia, dementia, and eating disorders.

Why is mental health important?

Mental health can affect physical health, and vice versa. Mental illness, especially depression, increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions, like cancer, can increase the risk for mental illness.4

Mental health greatly impacts our everyday lives. Going through life with an untreated mental health condition can wreak havoc on your body and lead to extremely negative outcomes, like delusions or suicidal thoughts. It’s important to pay attention to your body and what you are feeling, and to seek help when needed.

How can I take care of my mental health?

Everyone has a different mental health journey. Some people benefit simply from spending time with family and friends, while others may need professional help. It’s important to figure out what works best for you to manage your mental health and improve your life. Here are some ways to take care of your mental health:

  1. See a therapist. Even if you do not have a condition like depression or anxiety, everyone can benefit from talking with a licensed professional and evaluating the state of your mental health.
  2. Stay active. Exercise and physical activity has been shown to improve mental health when compared to people who live sedentary lifestyles.
  3. Eat well. Maintaining a balanced diet can help improve your mood and decrease feelings associated with depression and anxiety.
  4. Surround yourself with people you love. Spending time with family and friends will decrease feelings of isolation and may improve your mental health.
  5. If you are facing cancer, register with Imerman Angels to be matched with a Mentor Angel. Talking with someone who has gone through what you are currently going through can be incredibly helpful and provide peace of mind.

If you or someone you love are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

References

1 https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/mental-illness-awareness-week

2 https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/emotional-mood-changes.htm

3 https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-healthl

4 https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm