May was Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s time for some real talk.

Prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one in five Americans experienced a diagnosable mental health condition in any given calendar year. In real terms, that works out to be about 50 million people. Among them are our spouses, partners, parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and kids.

Perhaps even you.

As the pandemic entered its second year, the number of adults who reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression climbed to 41 percent, including nearly half of all adults ages 25-49 years old.

Thankfully, the pandemic has also helped to reduce traditional stigmas surrounding mental illness. Now more than ever, people are more comfortable talking openly about mental health and reaching out for support.

“It’s sad that it took the pandemic to make conversations about mental health and emotional wellness part of everyday life,” says Chief Nurse Practitioner Officer Kevin Lee Smith. “At the same time, the ongoing pandemic has given providers a chance to reimagine how mental healthcare services are delivered.”

First off, it’s important to understand that “mental health” and “mental illness” are not the same thing. Mental health refers to your emotional, psychological, and behavioral well-being. Mental illness refers to disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior.

Many things can impact—and be impacted by—your mental health. Unsurprisingly, for many people, the three pillars of good mental health are the same as those for physical health: eating a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, lean proteins, and healthy fats; staying physically active; and getting the right amount of good, quality sleep.

“That isn’t to say living a healthy lifestyle will make you immune to mental illness,” says Smith, “but it’s a great first line of defense.”

Just like your physical health, your mental health is fluid. “We all have peaks and valleys,” Smith says. “We all experience a wide range of emotions on a weekly or daily basis. We all experience stress. When persistent struggles and symptoms start to affect your relationships and your ability to function at home, work, or school, you may want to reach out to a healthcare professional for an assessment.”

Numerous studies have shown that poor mental health may contribute to a wide range of chronic conditions including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, decreased immune defenses, digestive problems, and maybe even cancer.

“At The Good Clinic we treat the whole person,” says Smith. “You’d never walk in and say, ‘I would like to be screened for everything except my cholesterol level.’ A mental health screening should be part of every wellness visit. Of course, we’re here to connect those in distress with effective, quality healthcare. We’re also here to mitigate risk for those who feel healthy. A mental health screening could help you identify potential problems before they have a chance to grow into a diagnosable clinical condition.”

Book a mental health screening with a Good Clinic nurse practitioner today.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental crisis, seek help right away. For immediate assistance, call 911. You can also call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day.

Photo by Ümit Bulut