According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in every five adults in the United States experiences a mental illness along with 17 percent of youth ages 6 to 17.
"Mental health matters," Rebecca Schlau, clinical psychologist and owner of Saline Psychological Services, said.
She said mental health issues are common. While many people have the incorrect belief mental health issues stem from a personal flaw or wrong choices, the issues are not a result of anything people have done or caused. Due to this mistaken belief, Schlau said, people feel ashamed and often don't get the help they need.
She likes to reframe mental health issues to help people better understand them. She encourages people to think of mental health as physical health, because that is what it is.
"Mental health is part of your physical health," she said. "And it is just as important."
She added if it was not a part of healthcare, insurance companies would not pay for care.
Schlau said physical, emotional and behavioral health all go together.
While Schlau considers herself a big advocate for therapy, she understands not everyone is receptive to it. She said if a person is not receptive, it will not work.
She said first the person needs to even recognize there is a problem. Often, they need a person they respect to reach out to them. She feels primary care physicians are great mental health advocates. They can reframe mental health so that the patient understands the physical aspect of it, such as neurological components. For some people, a medical doctor can get better results.
She does believe in results from medicine, though she does not prescribe herself. While she prefers therapy, she believes a mix of medication and therapy is also great. She understands many people need medication to help regulate their needs. She said it is like when a person has a vitamin deficiency. It is just putting back what the body should already have.
Schlau talked about several tools at people's disposal to help their mental health.
She said physical activity serves as a natural antidepressant that boost serotonin and dopamine. It also helps regulate sleep and appetite.
The problems with it is exercise is viewed negatively and those with depressions have low motivation, but she encourages people to try. She said not to overdo it at the beginning but start small, after getting a doctor's clearance. She encourages people to be realistic and not think they can immediately run five miles. Instead, she said, carve out a few minutes just to walk.
Schlau also recommends getting outside in the sun. She said there doesn't have to be activity, people can just sit on the porch. For those with depression, anxiety or other issues, just being in nature can be calming. At the very least, people can sit by a window or open the windows in their home.
She suggests just getting out of the house. She said people do not necessarily need to actually go anywhere. They could just drive or sit in their vehicle. The benefit is it requires a person to get up and put on their shoes and move.
Another stress reliever can be a hot shower or bath. She said it needs to be an intentional time to relax.
She also advocates aromatherapy such as a favorite candle.
Schlau said a good free way to get relief is just by reaching out to friends or family and talking to them.
She said all those tips especially apply during isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic. She understands many people have even more stress and anxiety due to concerns brought on by the virus.
To keep in touch, she recommends people use technology to their advantage. She said loneliness is a killer and this isolation is creating unnatural loneliness.
Plus it has create stress worrying about financial problems and health. She said having people to talk to can act as a buffer for the stress.
She recommends turning off electronics, social media and the news when feeling overwhelmed. She said to focus elsewhere for a while and find something to do. She feels keeping busy is natural to people, they want to feel productive.
While she understands people need to grieve what they have lost due to the pandemic, for the sake of their mental health, she said it is time to try to bring back some form of routine — wake up at the same time every day, eat at the same time every day, anything that adds structure.
Instead of keeping feelings inside, Schlau said write them down and then write steps that can be taken to address problems. Writing it down will help process the feeling or the issue.
Schlau said people need to give themselves and others a break, especially on how they are reacting to the pandemic. Some people may be freaking out and others may not be reacting at all. She said there is no blueprint for how to respond.
During this time, she feels it is important for everyone to kinder and gentler with themselves and each other.
Bottom line, no matter what the struggle, be it stress, alcohol or overeating, she encourages those in need to reach out to family, friends or a professional for help.
Many practices like hers are offering teletherapy, which is now being covered by most insurance.
"This is going to change therapy and counseling forever," Schlau said, adding its a great option for those uncomfortable with going to an office and those in rural settings who may not have an office close.
For anyone dealing with suicidal thoughts, the Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255.