By Bridget Kenny, RN, BSN, community health nurse liason community outreach

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to take a moment to share statistics, offer suggestions for ways to be kind to your mind and provide information for professional support.

Nearly 300 mental disorders exist and range in severity from undetectable to illnesses that can cripple an individual’s ability to function in society. Did you know mental illness is more prevalent than cancer, diabetes or heart disease in the US? It is also the second leading cause of death among people 10 to 34 years. Maybe variables during COVID-19 have contributed to the mental health crisis, but statistics show that cases have gradually increased since 2010. Nodaway County reports 31 deaths by suicide from 2010 to 2018. Ten community members lost in 2018 alone. Twenty-two percent or 1:5 adults, 22 percent of adolescents, and 1:6 children under age 8 struggle with various levels of illness.

Mental wellness, or the lack thereof, can vary based on an individual personal situation, substance use, activity level, social setting and hundreds of other contributing factors.

Physical activity causes a release of endorphins that promote a general feeling of well-being. Our brain also thrives on healthy food choices for a few different reasons. Research shows that eating a well-balanced diet can help us think more clearly and be alert. Consequently, poor food choices such as sugars and processed foods can lead to inflammation which many of us associate with the unpleasant sensation of pain but inflammation in the brain also increases our risk for anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, this is a vicious circle as eating these types of food also stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain and addiction issues to make us want more.

Getting caught up in negative thinking can be too easy. However, studies have shown that if you choose to find the silver lining and lean toward the positive side of thinking you will feel better than if you gossip about and consistently assume the worst in others. If you have friends or family members that are frequently negative, you may need to help them find healthier behaviors too. Be nice to those around you and consider random acts of kindness.

Even a simple smile and wave at a perfect stranger will brighten your day and likely theirs. If you ever drive Country Club Road in the evening, you may catch me practicing this behavior.

I can’t help but giggle at the variety of looks that I get in return for my exaggerated wave. Mayo Clinic reports that laughter truly is the best medicine and can relieve stress as well as provide many other great health benefits.