Our mental health check-in checklist

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to lift up the importance of maintaining mental health – and the perfect time to check in on how you’re doing.

Our safety net nonprofit partners know that taking care of our mental health is one of the most important tools we have. And although they’ve seen their own increases in mental health needs during COVID-19, they have also seen a great amount of resilience from our community.

They believe that resilience comes with taking care of yourself. Here are five steps to check in and take care.

1. Write down how you’re feeling right now.

Are you feeling anxious, sad, grief, anger? How are these feelings showing up in your life? Are they showing up when you scroll on social or when you are driving home from an errand?

Naming these feelings on a daily or weekly basis can help you track if you’re feeling better or worse. It’s important to use an actual “feeling” word, not just “good” or “fine,” which many of us tend to use to answer the question, “How are you?” Sara Hunter, a clinical supervisor at Caritas Family Solutions, says identifying an actual feeling word, like “frustrated,” “fearful,” “renewed” or “loved,” can help a person more accurately determine an effective coping skill.

Tracking your feelings isn’t just for your current stressors. Provident Behavioral Health’s clinical staff recommends writing down what keeps you going even when times are hard.

Dr. Paul Thomlinson, executive director of research at Compass Health Network, agrees. “In times of difficulty, focusing on writing down how you’re feeling and what you’re grateful for is a good pre-bedtime (or anytime) ritual. There’s a lot of science behind it in terms of mental health impact and sleep.”

2. Know the signs that it might be time to reach out for help.

Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize your emotions for what they are. And mental health can affect our bodies in different ways, including changes in sleeping or eating habits, body aches, trouble concentrating or staying interested in hobbies.

It looks different from person to person, but in general, it’s common to just not feel like yourself, especially in a time like this. If you experience any of these signs for more than a few days at a time, it might be time to reach out for help.

“Reaching out for help is a sign of strength and a great way to invest in the most important person in your life – yourself!” says Provident Behavioral Health’s clinical staff.

3. Build a support network.

Having a handful of family, friends or online support groups that you can reach out to lets you know that you’re not alone.

“A common symptom when mental health starts declining is that people will not reach out to other people,” says Reina Baez, LMFT, mental health director at Bilingual International Assistant Services of Greater St. Louis. “If you don’t have that preexisting support network, it’s pretty hard to build it when you’re not feeling well. Having that network before is preventative.”

4. Bring your offline supports online.

Social distancing doesn’t mean your hangouts need to end. It just requires you to get a little creative! Try gathering your offline supports for a virtual game night or a socially distanced picnic in the park.

And it doesn’t need to be about feelings every time. Surrounding yourself (virtually or distanced) with positive influences can help shift your mood, says Nancy Phillips-Kuelker, MSW, LCSW, director of behavioral health services at Affinia Healthcare.

5. Know the resources in the St. Louis region.

Even though we’re all experiencing different challenges, one thing is clear: None of us are alone. Our safety net nonprofits specializing in mental health and United Way 2-1-1 team are here to listen and help you.

If you would like help managing stress and anxiety, encouragement or just someone to talk to, get connected to a mental health professional by calling United Way 2-1-1. Dial 2-1-1 (1.800.427.4626) or visit 211helps.org to speak with one of our trained resource specialists.

Take action now:

James Taylor
James Taylor