How to boost your mental health

Q & A with Jessica Borelli, professor of psychological science

With a psychiatrist shortage and limited mental health services available in many regions, what is one of the best free ways to boost your mental health?

I think exercise is the single best free way to boost your mental health. Exercise reduces anxiety and stress, improves mood, and yields physical health benefits. People who do not exercise already often lack the motivation to start, so if you are one of these people, I recommend starting small and removing all barriers to getting started.

For example, you might want to sleep in your exercise clothes and put your shoes next to your bed (if you want to exercise first thing in the morning). Telling yourself that any amount of exercise is better than no exercise can also be helpful.

A lot of times people trip themselves up by telling themselves it isn’t worth it if the exercise does not meet a certain predetermined and arbitrary metric (e.g., 30 minutes of cardio, 10,000 steps), but the reality is that something is almost always going to be better than nothing, especially when we are talking about mental health benefits.

What is one way employers can benefit their workers’ mental well-being?

Employers can normalize mental health difficulties –– mental health problems are common. Most of us will struggle ourselves or will have someone close to us struggle with mental health difficulties during our lives.

Acknowledging that fact and encouraging employees to speak openly about mental health difficulties and emotions will help to destigmatize mental health challenges. The stigma associated with mental health difficulties adds a whole other layer of stress.

What are the three most common warning signs that someone is struggling with their mental health?

Negative mood: When a person is sad, irritable, or emotionless.

Social withdrawal: When a person retreats socially, doesn’t join in or want to be a part of social events or conversations, or stops attending gatherings.

Functional Impairment: When a person fails to live up to their responsibilities in their work or personal life, such as showing up late to work or missing work entirely, failing to turn in assignments, missing or forgetting about major work or personal obligations, or behaving unsafely or dangerously.

What are the best first steps for someone who is considering seeking mental health treatment? What is one thing they should keep in mind or watch out for?

Many mental health providers do not accept insurance but rather generate something called Superbills. The clients are asked to pay for services upfront and then submit the Superbills to their insurance company for reimbursement (these funds go directly to them).

This approach only works for clients who have PPOs, not HMOs. If you want to go through your insurance, it will save you time to call your insurance company directly and request a list of names of mental health providers from them. You can then contact these providers to see if they have openings for new clients.

If you try to seek therapy by reaching out to therapists you find through word of mouth or therapist directories, it can be frustrating because many of these will not accept insurance or will not accept your insurance.

Many therapists have long waitlists, so it may behoove you to get on multiple waitlists at the same time. And it may be helpful to prepare for the fact that you may need to pay out of pocket if you cannot find a provider who accepts your insurance.

More than 50% of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment. What is one way that cities can make therapy and other mental health treatments more accessible?

They can provide more funding for training programs for mental health professionals. There is a huge demand for students who want to gain access to the field and become mental health professionals, but entrance into Ph.D. programs is extremely competitive (between 1-5% acceptance rates), and many students need to wait between 1-5 years post-undergraduate education in order to be competitive enough to gain admittance.

These programs are funded, while master’s level programs (MSW, LMFT, LPCC) programs typically are not funded. These unfunded master’s programs pose challenges to students who wish to become mental health providers but will have difficulty funding their education. If we as a society believe we need more mental health providers, we should help fund the graduate training of these students (through grants, fellowships, and the creation of new programs).

This article is reprinted from LawnStarter.