Shifting Our Perspective on Mental Health

Woman comforting another

If you’re like most people, you rely on your car to get you to the grocery store, drop off the kids, and do all the day-to-day things that need to happen between Point A and Point B. To ensure our car is dependable and runs smoothly, we know that each component, even the hidden computer system, should be in good working order. The human body is no different; we break a bone, we see an orthopedic doctor; we feel sick, we see a primary care physician. But what do we do when our “computer,” our mental health, breaks down?

For many people, nothing.

“Historically, mental health has been separate from physical health,” said Janet Denison, chief clinical officer at Northwestern Mental Health. “But our minds and the way we think is essential to how we feel. That is why mental health should never be overlooked and should always be included in our total health picture.”

The Total Health Picture

When we experience an injury or are feeling ill, it’s typically obvious when we need to seek professional help. When it comes to struggling mentally, however, the symptoms may be more subtle at first and it’s hard to see our “computer system” being compromised. But that doesn’t make these symptoms any less important to address.

As people struggle with mental issues, it takes them more energy to get through their days. They may have difficulty concentrating, relaxing or feeling joy and satisfaction. Like a car with a broken computer system, when our mental health isn’t well, we simply cannot function at full capacity. Feelings of being overwhelmed, anxiety or depression begin to settle in and even our physical well-being becomes affected  by chronic pain, digestive issues and headaches. If left unchecked, these symptoms of a deeper mental issue can become more serious.

“So many of us struggle with mental health, including ourselves, neighbors, friends and family,” Denison said. “Challenges can be triggered by the loss of a loved one, family struggles or financial issues; the reasons are varied and common.”

In fact, the triggers for mental health issues are so common researchers believe nearly every one of us will experience a mental health crisis or challenge at some point in our lives.

But the issue isn’t when we will experience these challenges, but rather recognizing when we need help to navigate through them.

Many people, when faced with mental struggles, think they can power through. In some scenarios that approach may work with a good night’s sleep or talking to a friend. But when the issue is deeper, just like running on an injured ankle, powering through often causes more damage.

“There will always be losses and challenges we face and when these happen, it truly is okay to not be okay,” Denison said. “Because you’re not alone.”

Getting the Right Help

We live in a time where there are professionals who specialize in treating every type of mental health concern, from depression and PTSD to bipolar and eating disorders. They understand the chemical, emotional and physical challenges a person is facing and are able to be a guide for individuals of any age, helping them navigate through tough times. People not only benefit in the short term, but also gain insights, perspectives and valuable life skills for the long run.

These are skills we didn’t learn growing up. Skills that no one taught us in school, but it’s these lessons in coping that are perhaps the most critical life skills most of us missed out on.

“Mental health is part of your total well-being and when you’re in good all-around health you generally enjoy life more,” Denison said. “You become more optimistic, energized and productive. People also appreciate what they have, are easy to get along with, and generally more generous and altruistic. Their bodies are more relaxed because their emotions are more stable.”

Part of our overall health comes from our genes, but there is a good portion of it that comes from what we can control; our environment and our everyday choices. This is good news because that means there are many ways we can maximize our mental and emotional health every day. Some examples include:

  • A healthy diet
  • Being outdoors
  • Cultivating spirituality
  • Defining your purpose
  • Keeping a supportive network of people who care about you
  • Minimizing or eliminating alcohol
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Moderate exercise
  • Meditation
  • Practicing gratefulness and grace by forgiving yourself and others

When to get help

Anyone can get help anytime, but if they’re uncertain, a good question to ask, is “Are you having more bad days than good days?”

“If you or a loved one is unable to get out of a funk, which usually means the bad days outnumber the good days, it’s a good time to seek help,” Denison said. “There are so many resources available, including online assessments as well as in-person and virtual visits with a professional. There really is no reason to struggle.”

Where to get help

Individuals interested in talking with someone about their mental health can call Northwestern Mental Health Center’s caring team at 218-281-3940. They’ll ask a few clarifying questions and then schedule an appointment with the right provider, either virtually or in-person. The organization serves six Minnesota counties, including Kittson, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Polk and Red Lake. Their team also offers school-based services in Pennington County.

People can also discuss their mental health concerns with their primary care provider, who can make referrals and recommendations based on needs.

In our lives, we may own many vehicles, but in this lifetime we will only own one body. It’s important to take care of every component of it. Celebrate what works well and seek out assistance when you need to support to feel better. Because mental health is just as important as our physical well-being.

If you are feeling distressed, anxious, or if you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please call our 24/7 Support & Crisis Helpline at 800-282-5005.

Janet Denison

Janet Denison, MSW, LICSW, LADC serves as the Chief Clinical Officer for Northwestern Mental Health Center. In addition to her administrative role, she sees adult clients with a specialized focus on co-occurring disorders.