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This series by Eric Litwiller of the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas looks at mental health in the Wichita area. It is in conjunction with the Wichita Journalism Collaborative.

Commentary: We need to address physical and mental needs in order to be truly healthy

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How do you judge health? Is the person who runs 10 marathons each year but lives with Major Depressive Disorder healthy? What about the co-worker who is noticeably overweight but always has a smile on his face and is the first to ask you about your weekend? Or how would you judge the health of your friend from church who is fighting cancer but spends all afternoon actively gardening in her backyard growing organic produce to feed her family?

Like all of us, each of these people is unhealthy in some ways. Running marathons and working out does not automatically make us healthy mentally, though it does help. Similarly, seeing a therapist regularly and building healthy coping skills for the challenges in your life does not make you physically healthy, though those help as well. Physical and mental health are inextricably linked. You cannot have one without the other, so the efforts that we make to meet the traditional definition of healthy likely need to be redistributed with more of that effort going to the mental side of the equation. Things like an annual mental health check-up are a great start, but many things that aid our physical health are just as good – if not better – for our mental health too. Getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, moderate exercise, and spending time outside all do wonders for the brain chemistry that impacts things like depression and anxiety.

It’s time to reconsider our views of what health is and what it looks like. Regardless of what your physical health picture looks like, recognize that mental health is just important, and make an effort to be aware of and utilize the mental health resources available here in Wichita as well.

Links to mental health resources are at MHANational.org.

Eric Litwiller is the director of development and communications at the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas.