May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a great time to look at a new, positive and proactive approach to mental health with your employees. Like measures taken to prevent and treat medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, according to recent evidence, lifestyle and behavioral changes similarly can be implemented to improve mental wellness. 

This concept is shifting the paradigm from an illness- to wellness-oriented approach. But before you can address mental illness with any strategy, it’s imperative to understand its broad reach. 

Mental health in America

According to the State of Mental Health in America 2023 survey, the prevalence of mental illness varies by state. Its prevalence in adults ranges from 17.5% all the way up to 29.7% from state to state. 

Depression, one of the most common mental illnesses, affects more than 21 million adults and 3.7 million 12- to 17-year-olds alone. No matter if it’s depression or another mental health challenge your employees face, three key factors can positively or negatively contribute to their state of mind.

Woman sleeping

Getting quality sleep

Sleep deprivation, impairment and restriction have a bidirectional relationship with mental health. Inadequate sleep reduces positive emotions and makes regulating negative emotions more difficult. 

Improving sleep habits can greatly impact your employees’ mental welfare. Suggest they avoid caffeine late in the day, dim their lights at night and avoid alcohol close to bedtime.

Healthy foods

Eating a nutritious diet 

Dietary patterns and nutrition influence how severe mental illness may impact an individual. Many nutrients, including various B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids and others, are essential for producing neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers that regulate mood, appetite and cognition. 

The Mediterranean diet, which primarily comprises fruits, vegetables, seafood, nuts, legumes, whole grains and olive oil, is recommended to improve and sustain good mental health. Along with highlighting the above, you can also encourage your employees to check out three ways to practice good nutrition.

Two men walking outdoors

Engaging in regular exercise

Being physically active on a regular basis is the third pillar of mental health. Exercising for 45 minutes three to five days a week is optimal for mental wellness. 

If your employees say they don’t have time to exercise, suggest four ways to be active during busy time periods. Even “exercise snacks” can help mental wellness and fight cardiovascular disease.

These are the “big three” that form a strong foundation for good mental health, as well as good physical and whole health. As a bonus, here are three other important factors for managing mental well-being.

Life purpose, self-esteem and resilience

1. Having a life purpose: Finding a mission in life can significantly improve how a person feels about their place in the world, which improves their mental health. Whether it’s doing charitable work, finding a job they love, starting a family or dedicating themselves to a fulfilling hobby, it’s important for everyone to find a reason to get up every day.

2. Boosting your self-esteem: Self-esteem is shaped by opinions and beliefs about one’s abilities and limitations. Encourage your employees to challenge negative thinking and self-disparagement, avoid all-or-nothing thinking like “should” and “must” statements, and speak self-encouragement mantras to generate higher self-esteem.

3. Being resilient: Resilience refers to one’s “toughness” or capacity to rebound in the face of setbacks and difficulties. One way to become more resilient is to journal about difficult life events and note how you survived during those periods. 

Learning from the past by reflecting on patterns and coping strategies can improve how you deal with similar situations in the future. Another tip for increasing resilience is to refuse to avoid problems and take actionownership is empowering. Brainstorm possible solutions, make a plan and work on resolving the situation.

Labcorp can help

Use this Mental Health Awareness Month to talk with your employees about how they’re doing. Labcorp health and wellness coaches can work with you to improve your employees’ mental health wherever they need it. 

Whether it’s dietary concerns or physical activity, let’s partner today to make a difference tomorrow. Questions? 

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