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Take Care: Self-help and help from professionals

Sarah Fischer, PhD, and Steve Wengel, MD

Sarah Fischer, PhD, and Steve Wengel, MD

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the UNMC wellness team – Steve Wengel, MD, Sarah Fischer, PhD, and Priya Gearin, MD – will be discussing mental health topics weekly in UNMC Today. Dr. Fischer is an assistant professor in the UNMC Department of Psychiatry and psychologist at the Aspire Clinic. Dr. Wengel is UNMC’s assistant vice chancellor for campus wellness and a professor in the UNMC Department of Psychiatry.

We all have times when our mood could use a little TLC. If you sometimes feel a little low or anxious, join the club!

It’s very common for people to want to do something to make their lives better, even if that’s not seeing a mental health provider.

The good news is: A number of simple steps are within our power to make us feel better.

Exercise is one of those proven strategies. A good deal of research shows the benefits of exercise on our emotional health. Even small doses of activity, such as walking, bicycling or swimming, can make a big difference.

Other strategies that are proven to enhance our mental health include: 

  • Spending time outdoors.
  • Staying connected socially.  
  • Keeping a gratitude journal.
  • Getting enough quality sleep.

A good book on why these steps work – and how to get started doing them – is “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time” by Alex Korb. Korb offers a practical guide, even exploring how to use biofeedback principles without spending money on electronics.

If the do-it-yourself route isn’t for you, other options are available.

In treating common mental health conditions, the mainstays of treatment are psychiatric medications and psychotherapy. Many older and newer medications can help with the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

But psychotherapy is an option, possibly in addition to medication but sometimes instead of it.

Psychotherapy can benefit anyone experiencing intense distress or fear, having mood problems that are affecting work or relationships, or when people feel unable to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions in a healthy way and those thoughts, emotions and behaviors are causing you harm.

Various types of mental health professionals – including counselors, clinical social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists – can provide psychotherapy. Different therapists often have their own specialty areas that they focus on, which can help you find a therapist that’s a good fit.

There are many types of evidence-based psychotherapy that are backed by decades of research. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are the most common models for many mental health concerns. But many other treatments are effective for issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, other mood disorders and more.

If you or someone close to you needs professional help, check out the resources on the right side of this page. UNMC cares about you – free, confidential counseling services for students, staff and faculty are available.

If you are looking for more resources for yourself or someone you care about, you can call Behavioral Health Connection, a free service of Nebraska Medicine for anyone in the community. That phone number is 402-836-9292.

No matter what, help is available to start feeling better.

1 comment

  1. Ken Zoucha says:

    Thank you for this article Drs. Fischer and Wengel. I like the reminder about sleep. Many look to behaviors that can provide a temporary reward or boost in mood including alcohol, other substances, shopping/buying, and food. Your focus on exploring a person’s internal strengths is so important…Remember, no matter where you go, there you are! And you can take those internal strengths with you no matter where you go.

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