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Your environment impacts your mental health.

Daniel McKay

Since 1949, Mental Health America and countless others have observed May as Mental Health Month. This is a time set aside to focus on the importance of the mental aspect of health and to spread the word that mental health is something everyone should care about.

For Mental Health Month this year, Mental Health America is encouraging individuals to look around and look within. From your neighborhood to genetics, many factors come into play when it comes to mental health conditions. It’s important to consider that your surroundings can impact if, how and when your needs are met, which in turn affects your mental health.

First, having safe, stable and healthy home conditions set the foundation for achieving and maintaining good mental health. For many, not having a true “home base” to consistently return to can leave them feeling distressed, disconnected or isolated. If your home does not give you feelings of comfort, support and calmness, there are things you can do to your space to help you be more productive, reach your goals and improve your mental health. Practice tidiness, make your bedroom sleep-friendly, personalize spaces in your home to bring comfort, check air quality and remove barriers to healthy habits.

Stable housing not only allows individuals to develop routines, but build connections to their local community as well. The area, or ZIP code, that you live in plays a significant role in how healthy you are. A strong sense of community within neighborhoods protects mental health through shared support, resources and joy. Challenges like gentrification, community violence and lack of access to resources can negatively impact mental health. While many can be out of your control, being an advocate for change and making healthy community connections can bring hope.

Lastly, spending time in nature is linked to many positive mental health outcomes – improved focus, lower stress, better mood, and reduced risk of developing a mental health condition. There is a reason for this! Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin and vitamin D, which are associated with boosting mood and focus and reducing stress. Without enough sun, these levels can drop, leading to symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges. Light exposure also has a direct impact on your body’s sleep-wake cycle, and consistent sleep is one of the most important factors in your well-being. But don’t worry, you don’t need a picture-perfect outdoor experience to get the benefits of nature. Taking a hike on a local trail, walking in the park, and even sitting in or playing in your backyard are all simple things you can do to help boost your mood.

If you’re taking steps to improve your surroundings but are still struggling with your mental health, you may be experiencing signs of a mental health condition. Ask your primary care provider about a mental health screening to determine next steps. If you do not have a primary care provider and you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. You can also reach Crisis Text Line by texting MHA to 741741.

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