Family health

Center for Family Health Column: Normalizing Mental Health

By Leon Puttler

JACKSON, MI — Most of us pay more attention to our physical health than our mental health.

We visit the dentist twice a year to make sure our teeth and gums are healthy. We regularly see medical professionals to make sure our bodies are cared for and functioning properly.

But we often hesitate when it comes to our mental health.

Although thinking about mental health is increasingly common, it is still stigmatized. We often fear being judged or ridiculed by our friends, families and colleagues. We also sometimes fear being seen as weak if we have feelings of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues.

Thoughts come to mind that we just need to be tougher.

But just about everyone encounters problems in their life at one time or another. It is important that we address these issues as we do our physical health through prevention and treatment.

Taking care of our mental and physical health goes hand in hand because they are linked and influence each other.

Stress and depression can impact the functioning of our heart and other organs. Thyroid problems, chronic illnesses, and other physical problems can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Our minds and bodies work together. When one heals, the other often follows, or at least improves. We have to take care of them both.

Over the past two years, we have faced an unprecedented amount of change, adversity and uncertainty around the world. So, it is natural and normal that dealing with so many disruptions in our lives can cause feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Those of you with kids probably noticed it the most. We’ve been through a lot and we need to watch our mental health.

Raising awareness is often the first part of this process.

Scientists are finding that mindfulness (a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations) can improve physical and mental health in several ways.

You can use Google to find mindfulness activities that might be helpful to you. Most importantly, please seek professional help if you find that your mental health is deteriorating.

Making our mental health a priority in our overall care helps us be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.

Please make your mental health a priority. We can all work together to further reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. We all deserve to be our very best. Find your way to get there.

– Leon Puttler, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and researcher who works for the Center for Family Health, 505 N. Jackson St. and for the University of Michigan. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Research Society on Alcoholism.