Many people are unaware that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Thus this whole month is dedicated to getting the word out! It is one great step in reducing the stigma of mental illness. Suicide rates are also highest in May. This may surprise some of you who are familiar with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). There are various theories about the length of the day and exposure to more light correlating with these increased rates. I have my own theories that some people either fail to recover from the winter blues, and succumb to their lengthy depression, or become manic during the spring only to crash into a dark depression by May-July (highest rates in an overall time period).
People need to be educated on these topics, not only to pull away the veil of mystery around mental illness, but so they can protect and care for their own mental health, or advocate for their mentally ill family members or friends. According to the Mental Health America website "58% of Americans reported struggling in their lives at the end of 2008," that is no small number. Struggles faced during trying times like these can lead to mental health disturbances like anxiety and depression, often in previously healthy individuals. There are more tragic murder-suicides than I've ever seen before on the news. People's stress levels have gone so high as to be pathological. We all know that stress kills. Stress hormones like cortisol put a huge strain on the immune system, and they can lead to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and depression.
There are many ways to practice self care to reduce stress and protect or improve mental health: eating right, sleeping right, meditation, exercise, relaxation techniques, talking to a friend, listening to music, journaling, being around pets and children (well, sometimes), watching funny movies, mindfulness practice (living in the moment), and practicing your faith (church, temple, mosque, grove of trees, etc.). If the problem is interfering with day to day activities psychotherapy, medication, or support groups (online or in person) may be helpful.
The above self care activities are things we "should" all be doing anyway, especially for those of us who are already struggling with mental illness. Some people report self care as being 50% of their treatment. Medications, particularly with bipolar disorder, generally only manage symptoms; they do not necessarily keep people free of all symptoms.
Look for more to come here during the month about mental health, and especially my intimate acquaintance, bipolar disorder.
To learn more about Mental Health Awareness Month, or tools for improving mental health visit: http://www.nmha.org/go/mentalhealthmonth
For more information on the theories about longer days, light, and increased suicide rates worldwide visit: