At the end of this Mental Health Awareness Month, ask yourself, do you really know what it means to be aware of  your mental health?

As someone who, by profession, promotes mental health, this month is especially meaningful to me. Mental health is an essential part of all of our lives, as we are at our peak when we are in peak mental health. When the term “mental health” is discussed, often the concept that comes to mind is “mental illness”, and it confuses things when the terms are used interchangeably. Mental health and mental illness are clearly strongly related, but they are actually not opposites on a single continuum. You can be affected by a mental illness and simultaneously engage in activities or practices that that promote mental health.

Mental Health Awareness: Mental health is an essential part of our health. Learn to recognize the warning signs in yourself and others and don't be afraid to talk about it.

Mental Health Awareness: Mental health is an essential part of our health. Learn to recognize the warning signs in yourself and others and don’t be afraid to talk about it.

Mental Health Awareness Month, the way I see it, is a time that we all should open our eyes and ears. Regardless of whether you are personally affected by mental illness, we are all affected, directly and indirectly by the suffering of those affected. Furthermore, to me, this month is a time to openly discuss the importance of living our lives the best we can to help ourselves and others we care about feel good mentally and emotionally.

So how can we facilitate mental health awareness this month? Here are some suggestions:

  • Sharing personal experiences or stories.
  • Offering compassion to someone you know who is struggling.
  • Integrating mental health-related topics and addressing mental illness in everyday conversation.
  • Doing something for yourself every day that you know will be good for your mental health, and encouraging others to do the same.
  • Reading others’ first-hand accounts that you see so bravely detailed and shared online.
  • After reading a story, reflecting on it and what it might feel like to feel like the author is describing. Sharing the article with your own network or with other individuals you know who might appreciate seeing it.
  • Recognizing warning signs in others and in yourself. There are so many resources available online that are devoted to education and support, if and when you need it.
  • Learning what to do if/when you suspect that you or someone you know either would benefit from or is in certain need of professional help.
  • Not being afraid to be there to support someone who might need your help.
  • Recognizing when stress that you are experiencing is reaching an uncomfortable level and figuring out what to do about that.
  • Not being afraid to address any of these issues.
  • Overcoming fear.
  • Fighting stigma.
  • Being more open.

There are lots of things we can all be doing this month. How many of these are things you are already doing? How many seem foreign to you or especially challenging.

For many men, it feels especially uncomfortable to discuss mental health and mental illness openly. Sharing emotional and challenging experiences are ones that often don’t naturally roll off the tongue. The reasons why it can be so hard for men, in particular, to share their innermost feelings and challenges and to put them into words, have been eloquently and thoughtfully written about before and it surely will be discussed again, but they are not the focus of this article. The point that I want to make here is that mental health and mental illness is a part of all of our lives, regardless of our comfort level with discussing these topics. By opening ourselves up to understanding, compassion, and readiness to take action, you’ll have made a major difference for yourself or someone you care about. How’s that for something to feel good about? A little mental health awareness can definitely go a long way.