Health and Wellness: We can do better with mental health – Steamboat Pilot & Today

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According to Mental Health America’s latest report, Colorado is the lowest-ranked state in the country for adult mental health.
This is in a country where one in five Americans have a diagnosable mental health condition. In addition, a study by Colorado Rural Health Center found that the rates of suicide are 62% higher in rural Colorado than urban areas. This is a very real and raw issue in our community, and we need to do better. We have lost too many friends, too many of us are struggling and it is time for these statistics to change. 
We write this column from a citizen’s vantage — we are not licensed mental health counselors. But that’s the point: Talking about mental health needs to become a normal part of our everyday conversations.
Yes, we believe everybody needs to see a professional therapist, but we also believe that as friends, coworkers, partners and even strangers, we can be more present in our conversations with others. And the more we regularly talk about mental health, the faster we can break down the stigma surrounding it.
There are so many components and factors that affect mental health, and we certainly can’t solve every issue for those who are struggling. But we can check in more often, ask them how they are doing (and actually listen to the answer), and yes, we can hug people again.
Please, hug your friends. Research has shown that human touch calms our nervous system, lowers blood pressure and eases depression. Conversely, studies have also found that when people lack human touch, they experience a decreased immune function, higher cortisol levels and increased anxiety. 
So, what does this look like in our daily lives? Here are five ways we can make a difference as individuals:
And if you are struggling, know there are so many ways to feel better or to get help. Here are five things we can do to improve our mental health:
It is important to recognize that you can be both the helper and the person in need, and sometimes this happens simultaneously. But often, when we help others, we also help ourselves. Studies have shown that when we are generous with our time or resources, it activates the parts of our brain for pleasure and reward, making us happier. Any level of helping others improves our support system, reduces feelings of isolation, and increases our self-worth. 
In short, we urge our community to take more action. If you are tired or struggling, the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference (it takes about five seconds to send a “thinking of you” text). Our friends need us, our community needs us. Most of all, we need to help others in order to help ourselves. So please offer a listening ear, a heartfelt embrace or share a meal, and most of all, be kind. We can do better, starting today.  

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