May 18, 2022

Five tips to stay well during Mental Health Awareness Month

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iStock 1317816087 1May is Mental Health Awareness Month—a dedicated time to raise awareness of the importance of quality mental health. Since 1949, the month has garnered awareness for substance abuse, suicide prevention, dismantling stigma around mental illness, and promoting emotional and mental well-being. As we head back out to normal life after multiple COVID-19 surges, it is more important than ever to keep our mental health fine-tuned.

We sat down with the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness to learn more about the difference between mental health and mental illness, cultivating flourishing mental health, and utilizing the many resources UAB offers for mental wellness.

What is mental health?

According to experts in the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health is the state of emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

Mental health impacts the way individuals think, feel, and behave in daily life. Most importantly, our decisions and our ability to handle stress are significantly impacted by the status of our mental health.

Nisha Patel, director of Wellness and Administration in the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness, says to think about mental health like this: “If physical health is for your body, mental health is for your brain. Just like physical health, mental health is a critical component of our overall well-being, and it matters at every stage of life.”

How is mental health different from mental illness?

“Just like with physical health, it is possible to feel sick or unwell without a specific disease or illness,” she explains. “Just because you have negative emotions, doesn’t mean you have a mental illness. You can have poor mental health, but not a mental illness.”

On the flip side, a staggering one in five Americans live with a mental illness—a diagnosable condition that influences thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Of that, one in 24 has a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depressive disorder. One in 12 has a diagnosable substance use disorder.

Patel explains that “like body (physical) illnesses, brain (mental) illnesses can be treated and can affect anyone.”

Too, she says that a mental illness does not mean a person has poor well-being. In fact, a person can have a mental illness and still experience positive physical, emotional, occupational, and social wellness. What is important is that we care for our mental health the same way we care for other components of our well-being.

Supporting our mental health

There are many ways to take care of one’s mental health, whether living with a mental illness or not. Patel and the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness recommend these five ways to cultivate thriving mental health.

1. Move

Cardio and strength training have shown significant impact on positive mental health. Even walking for 10 to 15 minutes each day, or beginning your morning with simple stretches, can benefit both physical and emotional health. Prioritize movement, even in small amounts. 

2. Nourish

Nutrition is important for mental health as different food groups provide different vitamins and minerals—such as vitamin D, iron, vitamin C, calcium, and others—that help both our body and our brain stay healthy.

healthy foodsFocus on balance, moderation, and variety — rather than getting it “right” every day, explains Riley Thornton, wellness manager of UAB Employee Wellness. Employ moderation to enjoy the foods you love while also consuming meals similar to those on Thornton’s suggested resource: MyPlate Guidelines. 

3. Strengthen your mind

“Engaging in activities such as journaling, mindfulness, and gratitude can have significant impacts on positive mental health and, for some, preventing mental illness,” said Patel. Building resilience can be achieved in a number of ways such as living with intentionality and going to therapy.

Too, medications for anxiety and depression can significantly improve ones’ well-being at every stage of life. Irena Bukelis, M.D., associate director of the General Psychiatry and Residency Program, said “Studies show that medication in combination with therapy can have the most lasting benefit.

4. Focus on healthy sleep

Having healthy sleep habits positively impacts overall health; it can boost the immune system, strengthen the heart, and improve memory. To improve sleep schedule and quality, read five tips from Megan Hays, Ph.D., assistant professor and clinical psychologist in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

5. Take advantage of resources

UAB offers a multitude of tools to grow and maintain mental health. Try taking advantage of one or more to boost mental health each day and long-term.

Employee Assistance and Counseling Center

For employees at UAB and members of their immediate households, the Employee Assistance and Counseling Center (EACC) offers counseling, coaching, stress management, critical incident stress management, and one-at-a-time therapy, among many others at no cost. 

UAB Cares

UAB Cares offers help for students and employees through the UAB Cares Suicide Prevention Initiative. The tools and resources offer mental health education on a variety of topics, including the signs and symptoms of suicide, how to help someone in need, and online screenings.

B-well App

Available on the App Store and Google Play, B Well provides personalized tools and easy access to available health and wellness resources for all UAB employees and students. The app aims to support mental health in a variety of ways. Features include a live UAB Campus Calendar feed of health and wellness-related events, and opportunities to earn My Health Rewards points. Students are offered self-care plans tailored to their lifestyle and have opportunities to focus on good habits in sleep, movement, nutrition, routine, and resiliency.

exerciseUAB Medicine Office of Wellness

Serving UAB Medicine and Heersink School of Medicine communities, the UAB Medicine Office of Wellness aims to improve the health and well-being of faculty, staff, students, and trainees by services and education to promote overall wellness. Led by David Rogers, M.D., MHPE, chief wellness officer, the office focuses on five major areas of wellness—physical, intellectual, occupational, emotional, and spiritual—and provides resources on how to improve each.

Mental Health First Aid

UAB offers Mental Health First Aid classes which teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges among adults. Participants will learn common signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges, how to interact with a person in crisis and connect them with help, and additional information on trauma, substance use, and self-care. The next class is scheduled to take place May 26 from 8-5. Registration closes 10 days prior to event.

Well-Being Index

All employees in UAB Medicine have access to the Well-Being Index (WBI), a web-based tool used to evaluate multiple dimensions of distress in just 7-9 questions. It is designed to help users measure, monitor, and maintain their distress levels and detect burnout. It allows users to compare their scores to peers at UAB Medicine and nationally. The tool tracks progress over time to promote self-awareness, offers wellness resources locally and nationally, and is 100% anonymous.

Sign up codes for each group are as follows:

Trainee (Resident/Fellow/Other Trainee): UAB TRAINEE
Employee/Staff: UAB MEDICINE


The UAB Employee Assistance and Counseling Center partners with myStrength to provide free access to web and mobile tools for increased emotional health and well-being for employees and members of their immediate households. myStrength features hundreds of resources on stress management, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, parenting, substance abuse, and more. Access to myStrength is free and you do not have to be an existing EACC client to take advantage of this resource.