The isolation and other hardships of COVID-19 have challenged nearly everyone’s mental health, and many of us have friends and family who struggle with a mental illness — made worse by the pandemic. May is Mental Health Awareness Month — an excellent opportunity to reflect on our own mental health and the mental health of others close to us.

When most people think about “mental health,” they tend to focus on clinically diagnosed mental illnesses. Mental illnesses, like depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and others, are unfortunately far too common in our society and on the rise.

It might surprise you to know that 1 in 5 Americans will endure a mental illness in a given year. You may have no idea that some of your friends, family members and co-workers are suffering from a mental illness — an illness that often can be quite debilitating. Unfortunately, many who have a mental illness are embarrassed or even ashamed of their condition and are reluctant to get professional help, let alone share their struggle with those close to them.

Importantly, there is absolutely no reason for someone to think poorly of themselves because they have a mental illness. Just like there’s no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed to have a physical illness like diabetes or cancer. Illnesses, either mental or physical, are simply a fact of life for many of us.

The good news is that mental illnesses are quite treatable. People can recover from a mental illness and feel good again. If you think you or a loved one might be experiencing a mental illness that’s been going on for a while now (e.g. over a month), please seek help from a psychiatrist or mental health therapist. Many people don’t pursue medical and other forms of assistance because they don’t realize they are dealing with an illness that is treatable. The National Alliance on Mental Illness ( has a lot of great information on mental illnesses and how to approach dealing with them.

Mental health is not just about mental illnesses. At times, all of us experience poor mental health, even if we’re not dealing with a more serious mental illness. Life can be quite challenging and stressful. We can be down and/or anxious often enough that it compromises our ability to be truly happy and live rewarding lives.

Thankfully, there are simple things we can do to boost our mental health, just like there are things we can do to improve our physical health. In fact, some of those activities, like exercise and a good diet, contribute to both. The more we establish a solid, resilient foundation of positive mental health, the happier we may find ourselves and the greater chance we may have of not experiencing a mental illness.

NAMI Santa Fe ( offers free support groups, classes and talks around mental health. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re having a COVID-19-compliant, in-person NAMI Walks event at 10:30 a.m. Saturday,May 22 starting at Patrick Smith Park on East Alameda Street. Join us. The Life Link ( is a 30-year-old nonprofit that provides behavioral health services for the more disadvantaged citizens in our community. If you know someone who might need behavioral health services but cannot afford it or lacks health insurance, contact The Life Link. We’ve helped thousands over the years.

Riesha Fiorina is board president of National Alliance on Mental Illness Santa Fe. Craig O’Hare is board chairman of The Life Link and a 25-year survivor of depression.

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