A BYU professor shares 3 ways to improve mental health

A BYU professor shares three strategies for dealing with mental health issues: say something, know something, and be something.

In a forum, BYU Public Health Professor Carl L. Hanson described how these practices can help in anyone’s journey to mental health, along with the important difference between mental health and mental illness.

Say something

Hanson emphasized that while the terms mental health and mental illness are often used interchangeably, the phrases do not mean the same thing. In order to discuss mental health, people need to say something about mental illness.

“Mental health is not just the opposite of mental illness,” Hanson said. “Mental health exists on its own continuum, and we can thrive and achieve optimal mental health or languish whether or not we are diagnosed with a mental disorder.”

Hanson explained that everyone has a responsibility to talk about mental health and mental illness in accurate terms so that others can better understand how to help people in the community.

“Talking about mental illness can help us reduce stigma or negative perceptions of people with mental illness,” Hanson said.

According to Mental Health America, more than half of all U.S. adults and half of Utahns with mental illness are not getting the help they need. Henson cites a study that found suicidal ideation among college students has increased 64 percent since 2013. This study also found that more than 600 people die annually by suicide in Utah.

Hanson said some of the factors contributing to the number of suicides include “lack of access to mental health care due to lack of insurance, fewer provider options and cost of care, and personal choice not to use services due to the stigma of getting treatment.”

Suicide in itself is not a mental disorder, Hanson stressed — rather, mental disorders are causes of suicide. He urged everyone to look for ways they can support solutions and prevent suicides.

The new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by calling 988, and the SafeUT app is available to help Utahns.

To know something

Hanson said there are many different root causes of mental illness, and those causes are generally placed into two categories: risk factors and protective factors.

“Risk factors are those things that increase the likelihood that an individual will experience the problem,” Henson said. “Protective factors are those things that mitigate risk and are often just the opposite of the risk factor.”

Examples of risk factors include perfectionistic attitudes and childhood trauma, Hanson said, while an example of a protective factor is healthy relationships, which research suggests help mitigate certain risk factors.

“Much of this work points to the powerful influence of context and our interactions with others in environments such as home, school and communities,” Hanson said.

Be something

After all, talking about and knowing about mental health doesn’t lead people to great mental health without it, according to Hanson. “To achieve optimal mental health, to be our best, and to thrive, we also need to be something,” Hanson said.

He explained that focusing on the journey of self-improvement while embracing failure will lead to better overall mental health. Henson also emphasized that having a holistic sense of wellness, also known as “wellness wise,” will help people and their peers lead to better mental health.

“When we become wellness-savvy, embracing wellness as an opportunity for the whole person, we will not only be able to deal with personal challenges and changes, but also bring strength to others in the tasks of home and family life, social relationships , civic duty and service to humanity,” Henson said, citing BYU’s mission statement.

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