Mental health has received much-needed attention this past year. Now more than ever, it is essential to realize that it is okay not to be okay.

If you or someone you know is having an emergency, call 911 immediately. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time. 

We’ve all been through a lot in the last year.

The escalating stress of the pandemic, along with economic uncertainty, civil unrest, political turmoil, social isolation, and our nation’s reckoning with systemic racism, has had a deeply profound impact on the mental health of millions. 

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. As we continue to push through and persevere, all of us need to do our part in raising mental health awareness while reducing the stigma often associated with mental illness for far too long.

You’re not alone. 

Life has been out of balance for everyone as of late. And though it may feel like it, you are not alone when it comes to feeling unwell and overwhelmed.

Mental Health America recently released its State of Mental Health in America report, and the results are startling.

One in five Americans struggles with mental illness or a mental health condition. That is roughly 47 million people, and shockingly, these statistics were pulled together before the pandemic. 

Suicide ideation in adults has also increased, mental health among the youth has worsened, and a staggering number of people suffering from disorders have gone untreated. 

Again, this is before the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, a spotlight in this report shows the number of people experiencing depression and anxiety in the last year has skyrocketed—another troubling indication of a growing crisis.

When we began to hunker down last March, we were unaware of just how much COVID and the resulting economic and social upheavals would upend our lives. In a matter of months, each of us had our own laundry list of cumulative individual and collective traumas. 

If anything positive has come out of this widespread, shared trauma, it is the fact mental health has now become a massive part of the national conversation. And with this surge in awareness, the stigma that often prevents people from seeking help has reduced considerably.

Nobody should ever feel ashamed for needing help, and Americans that are becoming aware of this have been able to get a head start down their long path of recovery. 

For some, there is now a light at the end of a once dark and uncertain tunnel.

Here are a few ways you can practice mindfulness and good mental health practices. 

It can be challenging to practice mindful self-care when you don’t even know where to begin.

Fortunately, you can take some easy steps and strategies to start incorporating mindfulness and good mental health practices into your daily routine.

Mindfulness is a type of mental relaxation or meditation that helps you focus on being aware of what you are feeling at the moment. Its ultimate goal is to calm your body and mind while reducing the symptoms of stress and depression.

Arm yourself with an empowering mindfulness tool by simply focusing, recognizing, understanding, and accepting your feelings. This tool can help you make the necessary decisions needed to cope with those nagging feelings of anxiety, anger, isolation, grief, exhaustion, and despair.

With the warmer weather, and the emergence of vaccines, hopeful people have started to venture outside again to bask in the beauty and joy of being in the present. Practicing being in the present can have tremendous benefits on your wellness. A simple walk around the block or a quick two-minute breathing meditation at the start of the day is all it takes too. 

It also helps to remember that the present is the only thing we have control over.

With many people forced to reckon with their mental health, counseling has seen a massive rise in necessity. Of course, mental health services are not always an affordable option, nor are appointments immediately accessible.

The lack of mental health support hasn’t gone unnoticed, and several health agencies and businesses have begun offering the invaluable service of providing people with someone to talk to. 

Crisis intervention services such as SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline or Crisis Text Line (simply text HOME to 741741) have been incredibly beneficial when it comes to free, around-the-clock counseling. 

The SAMHSA National Helpline has been an outstanding resource for people in need of treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

In light of this past year, there has been an urgent need to ease the strain off emotionally burdened Americans. As a result, there has been an outpouring of aid and resources available for the people who feel like they’re sinking so that they may start to navigate out of turbulent waters safely.

What does the future of mental health hold? 

The last year has been fraught with worry, loss, isolation, loneliness, and depression. And because it was a shared experience, we have started developing awareness and compassion towards mental health disorders.

While the lasting effects of COVID will be around long after the virus is eradicated, the wounds can start healing now for so many people.

We now understand that everyone faces challenges that can impact their health, and we now know that depression and anxiety are common and often treatable. 

But there is still much work to be done. We need to address the conditions and the environments contributing to mental illness. And we need to evaluate the glaring issues with our strained mental health system and the unprecedented mental health crisis.

In the meantime, you can start cultivating mindfulness and mental well-being one day at a time. And know that it is okay to ask for help when life has become unmanageable. Never neglect your mental health.

Recovery, healing, and hope will happen, and we should all want this for ourselves, our friends and family, and our community. 

It’s okay not to be okay.