If your mental health took a hit during the past year, you’re not alone. Surveys show that the pandemic has worsened concerns like anxiety and depression worldwide. Covid-19 has been particularly trying for marginalized communities and individuals that have experienced higher incidence of serious illness and fatality, as well as facing the consequences of societal inequalities. But while the events of the past year may have brought these issues to the forefront, mental health has always been crucial to well-being.

In the U.S., we’ve been recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949. Mental health issues affect one in four people at some point in their lives. With 25 percent of the world’s population experiencing these challenges, you’re bound to interact with someone who’s struggling. That someone might even be you.

This May, take the opportunity to promote good mental health in yourself and others. The best way to do this? Foster a “community of mutual care.” Simply put, that means not just tuning in to your own needs, but offering care and compassion to others. Here are four ways to do just that:

1. Know your limits. 

Good mental health doesn’t mean you never have bad days. We all have positive and negative shifts in our mental health. Get to know what’s typical for you (or for your partner, friends, or children), and become aware of the signs of decreased mental health, such as exhaustion, headache, low mood, low motivation, high anxiety, or brain fog. Burnout is one of the most common mental health issues, and it occurs when life’s demands become greater than the resources we have to handle them. Know the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues like burnout, anxiety, and depression and get to know—and respect—your limits.

How to do it: Set healthy boundaries that prevent you from pushing past your limits and worsening your mental health. Check out the “Boost Your Energy” skill and the Fill Your Tank activity—both are game-changers when it comes to refilling your cup and practicing self-care.

2. Start the conversation. 

Talking about mental health can feel uncomfortable. According to a Workplace Health survey, only a third of all employees feel comfortable turning to their supervisor or colleagues for support. This number tends to be even lower for people of color, despite a disproportionate need driven by higher perceived stigma around seeking support for mental health.

No wonder the answer is almost always “fine” when someone asks how we’re feeling—even when things are anything but. However, when you make space for honest conversations, you take a large step toward good mental health not just for you, but for your friends, family, and community. By opening a conversation, we normalize discussions around mental wellbeing, which is critical to reducing the stigma.

How to do it: Have quick mental health check-ins with family and friends. Simply ask how they’re doing and be ready to respond with sincerity and openness. Not everyone is ready or willing to share, but even a quick “thinking of you” text can go a long way in supporting someone who wouldn’t otherwise reach out and can open the floor for dialogue when and if they are ready to talk. Make these check-ins a regular part of your everyday conversations to normalize authentic sharing.

3. Acknowledge trauma. 

A trauma occurs when we do not have the internal resources to cope with an external stressor—and experiencing trauma is not as rare as one might think: Up to half of women and 60 percent of men have experienced at least one trauma in their lives. Many situations can invoke feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, and sometimes these situations are a source of trauma. Acknowledging trauma is not a sign of weakness; rather, it can decrease the stigma associated with experiencing trauma and seeking professional care to deal with it.

How to do it: Be aware of topics and events that are potentially traumatic. Acknowledge that these events may negatively impact your or other’s mental health and make space to talk about it. Know that healing from trauma takes time and taking time and space is not only allowed but encouraged when it comes to processing your experiences. Check out our “Support for Trauma” skill for more help and guidance.

4. Find resources.

If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about your mental health, you don’t have to go it alone. Here are some resources:

  • The National Institute of Mental Health
    This government agency has a list of helpful resources, including tips for finding a therapist.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En español 1-888-628-9454
    This free, confidential crisis hotline is available to everyone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will connect you to local crisis centers, which provide counseling and mental health referrals. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. 
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741
    The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. It serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.
  • Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger or go to the nearest emergency room.