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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

National Mental Health Month Banner By Claudia Folch

Millions of Americans suffer from various types of mental illness and mental health problems, including depression, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, addiction to drugs and alcohol, and personality disorders.

In recognition of Mental Health Month and to promote awareness, a Presidential Proclamation was issued this year:  

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2013 as National Mental Health Awareness Month. I call upon citizens, government agencies, organizations, health care providers, and research institutions to raise mental health awareness and continue helping Americans live longer, healthier lives.” (White House, 2013)

What is mental health?

According to Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, M.D., in an article for, mental health is more than the absence of mental illness.  In  1999, the U.S. Surgeon General’s report defined mental health as “a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity.” Dryden-Edwards asserts that mentally healthy adults tend to report the fewest health-related restrictions of their routine activities, the fewest missed days of work, and the healthiest social functioning.

What is mental illness?

Mental illness refers to all diagnosable mental disorders, including abnormalities in thinking, feelings, or behaviors. According to Dreyden-Edwards, about 46 percent of Americans can expect to encounter the proper diagnostic criteria for some form of anxiety, depressive, behavioral, thought, or substance-abuse disorder throughout their lifetimes.

Prevention and Treatment

A variety of influences can help prevent mental-health disorders. For example, people who feel less secluded and alone tend to be less likely to develop a mental-health disorder, according to Dreyden-Edwards. Also, people who engage in regular exercise seem to have a more satisfactory self-image, more resistance to drug and alcohol addiction, and a higher sense of general physical and psychological well-being compared to those who do not exercise regularly.

Treatment options for mental illness and psychological disorders come in the form of medications, psychoanalysis, or other treatments like cognitive behavior therapy or  group therapy.

Steps to Stay Mentally Healthy

Green MHA Ribbon

Green MHA Ribbon Temporary Tattoo

So what does it take to feel happy and stay healthy? In the words of the Dalai Lama, “The secret to good health is peace of mind.”  The Art of Happiness – A Handbook for Life is a book written by psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler, M.D.,  based on a series of interviews with Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.  Here are some examples from Cutler’s book on how to nurture happiness:

  • Train Your Mind for Happiness
  • Shift Your Perspective
  • Cultivate Compassion and Altruism

Positive mental states which lead to happiness can include the following:

  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Patience
  • Generosity

The following day-to-day tactics are also helpful for living a happier life:

  • Savor Everyday Moments (Stop and smell the roses!)
  • Avoid Comparisons (Focus on our own personal achievement!)
  • Low priority for Money (Money seekers are more at risk for depression!)
  • Have Meaningful Goals (Strive for something significant!)
  • Take Initiative at Work (Express creativity, help others, suggest improvements!)
  • Make Friends, Treasure Family (You never can have enough good friends!)
  • Smile! (Have a positive outlook in life!)
  • Gratitude (Say Thank You Like You Mean It!)
  • Exercise (Studies have shown that exercise may be just as effective as drugs!)
  • Give (Help someone in need, volunteer, or donate – it will make you feel better!)
  • PETS! (Pets make you feel better and studies have proven they are good for your health too!)

What is it that makes you happy? Tell us on our Facebook page.

For more information on National Mental Health Month, visit Mental Health America (MHA – formerly the National Mental Health Organization). To find resources in your community, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).


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