“Mental health – it’s a good thing!” is the message the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County is spreading this May for Mental Health Awareness.

The term mental health refers to a positive state in which a person has the ability to live a full, satisfying life, and the flexibility to deal effectively with difficulties and set-backs. Maintaining good mental health is essential to a person’s overall health. Important mental health skills include developing a positive self-image, socializing, managing time, solving problems, and celebrating one’s unique strengths and interests. People should take the time to achieve good mental health just as they make an effort to eat fruits and vegetables.

Several easy ways a person can enhance his/her mental health include exercising, spending more time with others, volunteering, caring for a pet, and talking about feelings as issues arise.

Realize that all of us experience mental health problems. “Everyone feels sad and anxious every once in a while,” states Joel Mowrey, PhD, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. “Typically these feelings are due to a variety of situations and events that are occurring in our lives, such as stress, physical health problems, and normal grief reactions to loss.”

However, it’s important to recognize when it is more than just “normal” sadness or anxiety and may be time to seek help. “A person who experiences the symptoms for weeks or months and is not able to continue with their regular activities may benefit from talking with a therapist,” advises Mowrey. “Individuals who have suffered any kind of trauma (e.g., abuse, domestic violence, bullying, car accident, death of a family member by suicide or drug overdose) are particularly vulnerable to developing more serious problems that can be helped with mental health treatment.”

An issue in our communities is the stigma that surrounds mental health problems. The perceived negative attitude towards people with mental health issues may prevent people from seeking the help they need. Stigma also leads to prejudice, discrimination, fear, mistrust, and even violence against people living with mental health problems.

How can we put a stop to the stigma surrounding people with mental health problems? An easy way to start is by treating everyone with respect, dignity, and kindness regardless of having a mental health and/or physical health problem. See the person as a person – not as a diagnosis or label. Another way to address stigma is for everyone to become more educated about mental health and how all of us are on a continuum with varying degrees of health problems, including both mental and physical health issues. Finally, when interacting with others, listen to those who need to talk and provide support and encouragement.

The Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County contacts with local agencies to provide mental health and addiction treatment services for the residents of the county. The agencies in the network are Children’s Advantage, Coleman Professional Services, Family & Community Services, and Townhall II. For more information and to take a free online mental health screening, visit www.mental-health-recovery.org.