Ever broken a bone? In all my 31 years, I’ve been lucky to avoid it—which comes in handy during games of “Never Have I Ever.” But if you have had the misfortune, you may recall the kindnesses people extended you. Perhaps someone came over to mow your lawn, do your laundry, stocked your freezer with meals or offered to take the kids out for an afternoon so you could get much needed rest.

Physical health is something easy for us to understand. But what if someone you know had to step back from their responsibilities due to mental health? We may shy away from that person thinking we're respecting their privacy. In doing so though, we may inadvertently make them feel invisible. 

I get it. Talking about how we feel is uncomfortable, isn’t it? It can almost seem like trying out a new language, and we may fear saying or doing the wrong thing.

In a recent Spokesman Speaks podcast episode, Demi Johnson, an Iowa State University (ISU) Extension behavioral health specialist, says when someone opens up about their struggles, it’s important to listen without judgement. Ask them how they’re taking care of themselves and avoid phrases like, “You don’t really mean that, do you?”

It is important to maintain perspective of the good things in our lives, but there will be times we experience anger, sadness, grief and frustration. That is normal. We’re human and feeling an array of emotions is what makes us human. However, when those feelings begin to negatively impact our relationships, our decision-making skills and physical health, it’s time to address the situation, says ISU Extension Dairy Specialist and Pastoral Psychologist Dr. Larry Tranel.

While some stress can be mitigated using a variety of coping techniques, from hugging a loved one and getting exercise to writing out your thoughts or listening to a favorite song, sometimes extra help is needed from an external source. 

And that’s OK. If there’s one thing I want people to know during May Mental Health Month, it’s that mental health, like physical health, is part of our overall wellbeing.

If you have a physical illness keeping you from living life the way you want to, you may seek intervention from a doctor. If you are experiencing chronic stress, signs of depression or severe anxiety, there is zero shame in seeking help from a trained, licensed professional like a therapist or counselor.

There are many resources out there to help Iowans address mental health, crisis situations, addiction and more. And for Iowa farm families, Farm Foundation and ISU Extension have recently partnered to form the Iowa Farm Family Wellness Alliance to offer pre-paid, confidential, on-going counseling services.

It can be tough to pick up the phone and make that first call, but it is worth it so you can get back to feeling “you.” You wouldn’t ignore a broken bone. Be kind to yourself, and don’t neglect your mental health either.