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5 simple ways you can improve your mental health

There’s nothing quite like a pandemic to illustrate the existence of a global mental health crisis.  According to the World Health Organization, there was a 25% rise of anxiety and depressive disorders during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic alone—and the phenomenon has led to an influx of patients for mental health providers. 

Photo of Naomi Drakeford
Naomi Drakeford

As stakeholders grapple with this influx, they’re using today, World Mental Health Day, to speak out about what more needs to be done to make mental healthcare a reality for people worldwide.

If you’re experiencing mental health issues and struggling to find the support you need, you’re not alone. Reaching out for help can seem like an overwhelming task, but there are plenty of smaller steps you can take to move your mental health in the right direction.

The Daily spoke with Naomi Drakeford, associate director of diversity, equity and inclusion and interim co-director of counseling services for University Health and Counseling Services, to get her advice on the subject. A licensed psychologist who’s been working at Case Western Reserve University since 2019, Drakeford hopes to be a part of efforts to challenge stigma associated with mental health issues, and increase awareness that mental health is, quite simply, health. 

Read on to learn five simple things Drakeford says can improve your mental health.

1. Make sure you’re getting good sleep. 

Sleep is one of the foundational building blocks of mental health. Nobody functions well without getting adequate hours of sleep, as well as good quality of sleep. Without sleep, we are more likely to feel stressed, have difficulty managing stress, and can experience more physical health issues. It is important to remember that the mind and body are connected—sleep is a perfect example of how not attending to the physical need for rest can negatively impact stress and mood. 

2. Do activities that you enjoy consistently. 

We all have activities that bring us joy, make us laugh, or keep us centered. These could include crafting, watching a favorite television show, cooking, or engaging in exercise to name a few. However, sometimes when stressed or busy, we can be quick to put those activities on the backburner. Mental health is typically improved when we routinely engage in these activities and make them a priority. 

3. Practice self compassion. 

Life is full of ups and downs, which often includes encountering situations that do not go as we planned or hoped. For instance, perhaps we had the intention of studying more for an exam but ran out of time or we unintentionally were irritable with a friend. Everyone makes mistakes and wishes they had sometimes handled situations better. Practicing self compassion allows us to acknowledge a mistake without becoming overly self critical. Making mistakes is part of being human. 

4. Stay connected to others. 

We are social beings who benefit from staying connected to others. Depending on your personal experience, this could include friends, chosen family, or a higher power. Having the support of others helps provide a buffer against the stresses of life. If you are going through a hard time, it may be tempting to isolate or withdraw; however, those are the times to rely on your connections even more.

5. Consider seeking professional help. 

Many individuals have conflicting feelings about seeking help. Whether it is getting a tutor, asking a friend for a favor, or pursuing counseling, it can be difficult to ask for help. This difficulty can be even more challenging if our personal beliefs, cultural values, or life experiences have led us to question the usefulness of professional help. Counseling is available and effective, and is a proven method of improving and maintaining mental health.

Looking for mental health resources at Case Western Reserve University? If you’re a student, find more information through University Health and Counseling Services; and if you’re a faculty or staff member, discover resources through IMPACT Solutions.