May is Mental Health Month and May 20 is specifically devoted to promoting Mental Health and Wellness. A common myth about mental illness is that it cannot be prevented. It is true that there is a genetic component to mental illness, and mental illnesses can become chronic conditions. However, like any heritable disorder, preventative care can be very effective in actually preventing chronic mental illness or mitigating its effects. Similar to disorders like high blood pressure or diabetes, sound, proactive lifestyle habits can help prevent mental illness, even when there is a family history of these disorders. Symptom awareness and early intervention can mitigate the impact of these disorders, and when caught early enough even reverse what could have become a chronic illness.
So how can mental illness be prevented? Here are four suggestions:
1. Know your family history. Uncle Mike’s quirky ways, Aunt Jenny’s perpetual sadness, your grandfather’s alcoholism may not have been diagnosed, but could indicate some kind of mental illness. Don’t be afraid to ask the question.
2. Know the signs. Check out the What to watch, When to worry dropdown under the Educators, Parents, or Students tabs.
3. Get help right away. There is no need to wait until a youngster becomes dysfunctional to reach out for help. Many developing illnesses can be successfully treated without medication if intervention comes early enough. A school counselor, pediatrician, or family doctor can be a good place to start.
4. Practice proactive mental health habits. The World Health Organization reminds us that the absence of a mental illness does not necessarily mean good mental health. One of the best ways to prevent mental illness is to take steps to build and maintain positive mental health. Take breaks, socialize, stay physically active, get enough rest. This summer Red Flags will publish The Green Book, a new booklet for teachers and parents on building and strengthening children’s mental health. More on this soon.