May is Mental Health Awareness month.

Sometimes people get uncomfortable or put off when we talk about mental health. It makes some folks feel like the conversation is going to get all squishy and overly emotional, or that needing support about mental health means someone is “crazy.” Sometimes words like “mental health” “counseling” “therapy” can carry big stigma and make people feel shame or embarassment.

But honestly, there should be no shame in taking care of your mental health and the mental health of your loved ones. It’s part of what we need to do to take care of our health overall–mental health is part of health.

What is Mental Health?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act, and 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. Over the course of your life, if you experience problems with mental health, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected.”

How are Stress and Mental Health Connected?

Stress and mental health are very interconnected. When stress lasts a long time and becomes overwhelming , the risks for mental health problems increase. Long-term stress increases the risk of anxiety and depression, substance use problems, sleep problems, and pain and body aches from muscle tension.

The relationship goes both ways, too. When someone is having a hard time with their mental health because they feel depressed or anxious, they have a really hard time managing stressors as they come along. People who are struggling with their mental health may get angry more easily, or pull away and avoid the stressful situation, or just lose the ability to do good problem solving.

So it’s a two-way street–chronic stress can cause mental health problems, and poor mental health makes it harder to manage stress.

How do I Take Care of My Mental Health?

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, to take care of your mental health you should: Get regular exercise, Eat health food and drink enough water, Get enough sleep, Try some relaxing activities, Practice gratitude, Focus on the positive, and Stay connected with others.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because these are all the things we’ve been talking about in this blog to manage stress. If you do things to manage stress, you are taking care of your mental health.

Sometimes though, even when you’re doing all the right things, you can have problems with your mental health. When that happens, it is really important to reach out and find someone to talk with –a counselor, a therapist, a clinical social worker, a counseling pastor–and get the help you need. To find a counselor near you, you can do several things: 1) Ask your primary care doctor; 2) Go to websites with directories, like the one at the Farm Bureau’s Farm State of Mind or SAMHSA’s Find Treatment site; 3) Google “Department of Mental Health in (your state)” and look for how to find services near you; 4) If it’s urgent, call 988–this is a national crisis hotline, but they can connect you with services near where you live in any state.

The most important thing is to reach out and talk with someone. As my colleague Camp Hand said in an earlier blog, don’t be afraid to let a friend know you’re struggling. Reach out and take care of your mental health.

If you think about it, taking care of your mental health makes you better able to handle stress, better at making good decisions, a better family member and friend…and all that means it makes you a better farmer. So take care of your mental health and keep thriving!

You can find more information on mental health awareness month here.

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