*This post is intended to share general information about mental health. OEA Choice Trust cannot give medical advice. If you are struggling with mental health, we encourage you to speak with your doctor for medical support and speak with loved ones for emotional support. Crisis hotlines are included at the end of this post; please call or text them or call 911 if you need immediate support.
In honor of National Mental Health Month, we’d like to share some basics about mental health and mental illness. Free resources, related reading and recommended podcasts can all be found at the end of the post.
What is mental health?
Mental health is defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as including “…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 healthy choices.”
It’s important to recognize that all of us have mental health, and it can be cared for and improved, just like physical or financial well-being.
Sometimes people misunderstand and think mental health and mental illness are the same thing. Mental health is something everyone has; a mental illness is a diagnosed condition. A person can have poor mental health and not have a mental illness. Also, a person living with mental illness can have good mental health.
Mental illness and breaking down stigma
Mental illness can be part of a person’s mental health. Mental illness has a stigma associated with it, so people often don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Stigma is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage.”
By making it ok to talk about mental health, we can help break down the stigma and create safe environments for others to reach out or seek help.
One in five adults will experience a mental illness in a given year. More than 50% of adults in the United States will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives.
Talking to a professional, like a primary care doctor, can help a person get connected to resources and start a treatment plan.
Learn more about specific mental health illnesses in the resources linked below, including podcasts that focus on mental health.
How can I tend to my mental health?
Tending to our mental health is important because it contributes to our overall, daily well-being.
Stress can significantly impact a person’s mental health. School employees often experience chronic stress for a variety of reasons, such as increased disruptive behaviors by students, increased job expectations, lack of resources, lack of funding and demoralization. In addition, school employees can also experience compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress.
There are lots of different ways to tend to mental health. What works for some people might not work for others, so the important thing is to find strategies that work for you.
- Exercise – Exercise can boost the production and release of serotonin, a key hormone that helps to stabilize our moods and well-being. Exercise can also increase the production of endorphins, which help us feel better. Routine exercise can help manage stress.
- Exposure to sunlight – Vitamin D is produced in our bodies with help from ultraviolet B light (UVB light). This vitamin helps the brain release dopamine and serotonin. Serotonin helps us stabilize our feelings, regulate our moods and prevent changes to our states of happiness. Dopamine is connected to the “pleasure center” of the brain and helps us create habits and feel rewarded.Since our bodies need exposure to UBV light to make Vitamin D, it’s important to get outdoors. UBV rays are blocked by glass, so you can’t make Vitamin D with sunlight though a window. Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can reach our skin, so wearing sunscreen will protect exposed skin while allowing Vitamin D production.
- Massage – Though scientists don’t know exactly why yet, studies on adults and babies both show that routine massage boosts serotonin production.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness, a state of being aware and non-judgmental, can help us to be present and in touch with our senses, thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness practice can be done while washing the dishes, playing with children or anytime you have a safe space to be more aware and present. See resources below for ways to practice mindfulness.
- Meditation – Meditation focuses on calming the mind. For educators, the Headspace app can be a good place to start as anyone with a school email address can get a free subscription.
- Therapy – Therapists and counselors work with all kinds of people, including those without mental illness. Check if your insurance benefits or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides you with this benefit. If not, searching for local resources and services on a sliding scale can help.
- Time for hobbies and social activities – Arts and crafts, time with friends, listening to music, walks in nature and journaling can all help maintain good mental health.
If you are struggling with your mental health or live with a mental illness, it’s important to speak with your doctor about it so they can help you with a treatment plan.
How can I support others’ mental health?
Because of the stigma around mental health, it can feel unsafe or uncomfortable to talk about it, especially in the workplace. Several articles and resources below discuss how to talk about mental health with others, particularly colleagues and friends.
It’s important to remember that while living with a mental illness can be intensely personal, we all have mental health. Checking in with friends and colleagues and sharing a little about your mental health can help create a safe space to talk about it.
How can employers and administrators support employees’ mental health?
- Encouraging employees to take their breaks and allowing social times during the work week can support employees’ mental health.
- If administrators speak openly about and approve employee mental health days, it can help staff feel comfortable taking time for their mental health.
- Trainings about mental health can be powerful ways to educate staff and increase their awareness of existing resources or support systems. Two organizations that provide trainings in Oregon are Mental Health First Aid and Question-Persuade-Refer. Both are linked in the resources section of this post.
- If the employer offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), discussing those benefits with staff and encouraging them to use the EAP can help.
- School employee wellness programs can support employees’ mental health. Survey staff to determine if mental health and emotional well-being needs are a priority. If they are, leadership can support the wellness team in creating work environments and wellness opportunities that offer more mental health support to employees.
Suicide is a difficult topic but talking about it can break down stigma and help others get the help they need. Suicide prevention is so important, and there are a few things each of us can do to be more aware and prepared to help a person who may be feeling depressed or thinking about suicide.
Creating a community and environment where it’s ok to talk about feelings and not always be “on” or happy is important. Feeling suicidal can often be linked to feeling hopeless, worthless or isolated. These feelings could be related to work, mental illness, long term physical pain or illness, financial stress, family issues, discrimination, addiction or other factors. Through training and education, we can be better prepared to support individuals in getting the help they need to improve their mental health.
Trainings by organizations like Question-Persuade-Refer (QPR) can help staff better understand mental health, be aware of signs to look out for and feel more comfortable supporting their colleagues if something might be wrong.
Lifelines and text lines
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
The United States Crisis Text Line is available by texting HOME to 741741.
Resources and related reading:
- Learn About Mental Health – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- We All Have Mental Health animated video – Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families
- Mental Health by the Numbers – National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- What are Vicarious Trauma and Secondary Traumatic Stress? – TEND
- Facts and Statistics – Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Common Warning Signs of Mental Illness – NAMI
- Boosting Your Serotonin Activity – Psychology Today
- What’s the Difference Between Serotonin and Dopamine? – Better Help
- Get Moving to Manage Stress – Mayo Clinic
- Getting Started with Mindfulness (includes meditation) – Mindful
- How to Talk about Mental Health at Work – Happiful
- What is QPR? – QPR Institute
- Mental Health First Aid at Work – Mental Health First Aid
- Mental Illness and the Workplace – SHRM
- Stigma Free Workplace Checklist – A World without Suicide
- Causes of Suicidal Feelings – Mind.org/uk
- Find Help – Mental Health America
- Help Yourself – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Help Someone Else – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Know the Signs, Find the Words, Reach Out – Suicide is Preventable
- Organizations That Can Help – Makeitok.org
Suggested podcasts about mental health:
- Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson – Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Senior Fellow of Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley
- The NAMI Radio Hour – National Alliance on Mental Illness
- In the Open – Mental Health America
- Tremendous Upside – Makeitok.org
- The Anxious Achiever – Harvard Business Review
- The Hilarious World of Depression – MakeItOk.org