DENVER — May is Mental Health Awareness Month and there certainly seems to be more need than ever to recognize and even rebrand the way we think about our mental health, says one mental health expert.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in 20 U.S. adults experience a serious mental illness each year, and less than two-thirds of them receive treatment. One in six U.S. youth experience a mental health condition each year, and only half of them receive treatment. Fifty percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.

Dr. Justin Ross, the director of workplace well-being for UCHealth, says, “Mental health needs to be rebranded because what mental health really is, is a collection of your human experiences. Mental health captures the way we’re thinking, the way we’re feeling, the way we are relating to others and the way we are able to go about the tasks of our lives at work, at home and in the community.”

Think about it this way: Like our physical health, it’s pretty rare to come across a person who never gets sick, and is the perfect picture of health day in and day out. Dr. Ross says it’s the same idea for our mental health – it’s something the vast majority of us will have issues with and need to deal with at some point in our lives – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“Mental health is not a sign of there being something wrong, or of a problem. Mental health is something we all have and like physical health, we all have mental health. We need to work on areas that might be giving us a hard time or might be problematic, and we need to learn that we can all enhance our mental health and our well-being.”

Yet, the stigma remains that talking with someone about our feelings or inner thoughts is a sign of weakness. Dr. Ross suggests that understanding why that is can be a gateway to taking the first steps and reaching out for help.

“When we start to talk about our struggles with someone else, they start to become a little more real. Once we let them out, we feel this pressure that we have to figure out what to do with it and somebody else now knows about it. It’s not a secret anymore and with that comes a lot of pain. I think one of my favorite sayings is, ‘You cannot change what you’re not aware of.’ Often what comes without awareness is an initial heightened level of pain when you open these things up. A lot of these things don’t have an immediate solution. They can take some time, they take some change, they take a different approach to ultimately heal. So when you put all those things together in the hopper – it can be a really daunting process to get started for people.”

We’ll be hearing a lot more from Dr. Ross this month about warning signs that could mean you could benefit from help with your mental health, along with how mental health issues can differ from men to women.

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