The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that at least one in four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental illness during any given year. That includes problems such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many others. Antidepressants are the second-most commonly prescribed class of medications. That’s a lot of people! If it’s not you, then perhaps it means your parent, child, spouse, coworker, or best friend.

Sure, there’s controversy over whether the one-in-four number represents an over-diagnosis. But what is absolutely certain is the pain and loneliness many of those affected struggle with. For many it may be an accomplishment just to get up in the morning.

What leads to mental illness? We know there are many factors. Genetics, nutrition, and substance abuse certainly play a roll. So does a history of being abused, or serving overseas in the armed forces for some people. Our human brain is a sensitive complicated instrument, and our world offers trauma much too often.

Added to the personal struggles of those with mental illness, our society often presents even more hurdles. Those with mental illness often face stereotypes and stigma from others, and significant financial challenges in getting the help they need.

There are a number of things you can do on your own to maximize your mental health. You don’t have to accept emotional or mental problems as your destiny. Here are recommendations that will make a difference in managing your own mental health:

  1. Choose a healthy lifestyle, including healthy diet and exercise. Some studies, for example, show that regular exercise may be as helpful as medication for some people with depression. And your brain needs unprocessed nutrient-packed food to be at its best.
  2. Choose positive thoughts. This is not a cure-all, and none of us can do this perfectly. But it is important to realize that you have much more control over your thoughts than you probably realize. And make conscious choices about the entertainment and media your mind is exposed to.
  3. Choose medication carefully. Some look to a pill as a quick fix for any emotional problem. Others refuse to consider medication at all, when it might be truly helpful. Consider medication as just one part of taking personal responsibility for your entire mental health.
  4. Include God in the process. Your spiritual health greatly affects your mental health. Faith, prayer, and the support of a community of believers can make an enormous difference in your mental and emotional wellbeing. Pray for your own mind, and find others to pray for you as well. It will make a difference! (See 2 Tim 1:7)

Just like your physical health, your mental health deserves careful attention. How you care for your mind does make a difference.

If you are among the one in four Americans affected by mental illness, or you have a family member who is, check out these resources:

Your Turn: Are you or a family member one of the “one in four”? What are you doing to maximize your mental health? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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