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Make your mental health a priority in 2018
Leominster Champion - 1/19/2018
Raise your hand if you made one or more New Year's resolutions.
Raise your hand if one of your resolutions was to improve your physical health.
Now raise your hand if one of your resolutions was to improve your mental health.
Don't be embarrassed. More people than not focus on their weight, body shape, and physical appearance than on "brain" health.
But mental and physical health and wellness are intertwined. The SHINE Initiative, founded by Leominster-based Fidelity Bank in 2004, subscribes to the belief that the brain is the most important part of the human body. Our brains are the repository for information gathering, decision-making, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control and behavior.
This is the message we share with young people, parents and teachers at community presentations and at schools like Leominster High School and Sky View Middle School, as we continue our quest (and mission) to recognize mental illness in children and young adults as a mainstream health issue and to eradicate the myths and stigma surrounding mental illness.
We offer these "tips" for improving and maintaining your mental health in 2018:
Reduce your "screen time," especially later in the day. Replace computer or social media time with reading or music. Create a journal devoted to chronicling something positive you experience each day.
Diets can be beneficial, but the emphasis should be on "being healthy" rather than physical appearance. Subtle changes to diet can be enormously positive. For example, reduce your sugar intake, or your consumption of processed foods (e.g., chips, crackers, cookies, frozen pizza.) Increase your intake of green vegetables, fruits, fish and whole grains. And drink more water!
Exercise! You don't need to do crossfit workouts, or train to run a marathon. Jogging or a simple, brisk walk every day can do wonders to relieve stress. Did you know that every 2,000 steps walked is the equivalent (approximate) of 1 mile? Even if you're confined to an office for much of your workday, get up and out for a 10-minute walk at lunch time. Or for a short walk before or after your evening meal.
Learn the warning signs of possible mental disorders. Be a good listener. Be a non-judgmental and empathetic caregiver. If someone you care about is exhibiting signs of mental illness, tell them you will help them to get help.
If you are experiencing changes in emotions and feelings, ask someone who loves you and you can trust to help you.
Remember, above all else, mental illness is just that - an illness. If you were suffering from a respiratory condition, or were experiencing continuous significant pain in your abdomen, or broke a bone, would you avoid medical treatment? Not likely. If your brain isn't feeling well, you should have the same desire and commitment to seeking professional treatment.
We should not view mental illness as debilitating or stigmatizing. Mental illness is not a weakness. To the contrary, the SHINE Initiative regards people who seek help to manage a mental illness as "resilient" and "responsible."
Our wish is for everyone to achieve total wellness in 2018 and every year - and that means addressing and nurturing mental health as well as physical health.
Paul Richard is executive director of the SHINE Initiative, a nonprofit founded by Leominster-based Fidelity Bank with input from its employees in 2004 to raise awareness and understanding about mental illness in children and adults as a mainstream issue. For more information, visit www.shineinitiative.org.