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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

By Sarah Allen, PA-C
Posted 5/9/23

Sarah Allen is a physician assistant at Vanderbilt Integrated Primary Care, Madison Street in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

Mental health is increasingly an important issue impacting many Americans …

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month


Sarah Allen is a physician assistant at Vanderbilt Integrated Primary Care, Madison Street in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

Mental health is increasingly an important issue impacting many Americans across the nation — and Tennessee is no exception. In fact, Tennessee ranks near the bottom in the country for mental health services.

According to recent reports, there’s one mental health provider for every 590 people in Tennessee. That is lower than the national average of 1 provider per 350 people.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also influences how we handle stress, relate to our friends and family, as well as the quality of our health-related choices.

Good mental health is important at every stage of life. Here are a few tips for improving your mental well-being.

Give yourself some technology-free time. Social comparison, feelings of missing out and cyberbullying all stem from the content we see online. Increased use of social media and other online channels are linked to increased depression and anxiety. Too much technology also affects our bodies, which then decreases our mental wellness. High screen use can disrupt sleep, especially if it’s before bed, and decreases physical activity.

Begin paying attention to how you feel during and after long periods of screen use. If you find yourself with higher anxiety or lower moods, try to take a break — even if it’s only for an hour or two.

Incorporate physical exercise into your lifestyle. Exercise is an extremely effective way to increase your mental well-being. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy and releases chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin, that improve mood. Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better emotional well-being and lower rates of mental illness. Doing just 30 minutes of exercise three days a week can significantly improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Eat a healthy diet. When you stick to a diet of nutrient-rich, healthful foods, you are likely to experience fewer mood swings and improvements in depression and anxiety. Our guts and brain are more linked than many realize. Many of the processed foods we eat stimulate the dopamine centers in our brains, making them moderately to highly addictive and influence our base emotional behaviors. To boost your mental health, focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Find ways to relax. If there is an activity or hobby that helps you stay calm, try and find ways to incorporate it into your daily routine. Additionally, practicing mindfulness — by using techniques such as yoga, meditation or breathing exercises — have been shown to increase calmness and help people become more aware of their thoughts and feelings. With this awareness, we’re better able to manage our emotions and how we respond to situations and people.

If someone is feeling paralyzed by stress and sadness, or it’s disrupting their ability to live a normal life, it’s essential to schedule an appointment with a mental health provider to discuss treatment options. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide or harming others, seek help immediately and contact the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255 or the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Good mental well-being doesn’t mean you’re always happy or unaffected by your experiences. It just makes those difficult times in life easier to navigate. This Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important to take care of yourself and prioritize your mental well-being.