“Pathways to Wellness,” this year’s theme for Mental Health Month, calls attention to ways all people can work toward achieving an overall sense of well-being, including both mental health and physical health.

“Wellness is an essential part of living a full and productive life,” said Kathy Pearce, PhD, licensed psychologist and director of psychology at Prairie View. “Wellness means self-growth, and it’s always in motion toward something positive. It’s about taking steps to increase meaning and enjoyment in life.”

Pearce divides wellness into four areas: physical, social, spiritual and psychological. Tied together, these four complete a person’s general well-being. According to Pearce, mental health goes hand in hand with physical health as essential components of the pathway to wellness.

Examples of physical wellness are physical exercise, eating healthy, taking prescribed medications, going to doctors’ appointments and even getting enough sleep. Social wellness calls people to work on good, supportive relationships with other people.

“There’s a great deal of research showing that our social interactions — our social life — are a huge mediator in terms of how we feel emotionally as well as physically,” Pearce said.

Spiritual health is developed through faith and beliefs and expressed through joy, compassion, tolerance and a capacity for love and forgiveness.

Taking care of one’s psychological health, Pearce said, is important. “Do you have a good sense of yourself as a competent person? Are you taking care of your psychological needs like fun, humor and relaxation? How are you coping with life? Do you feel that you will be able to cope with whatever stressors life may present to you?”

Coping skills promote resiliency and emotional awareness and strengthen connections to family, friends and community. Stress management, too, falls under wellness.

“Given the demands stress brings and the challenges many people face at work and at home, managing stress is important,” Pearce said. In therapy she often asks people what they do for fun. “People often have a blank look, not knowing how to answer, but I firmly believe that fun and relaxation are a valuable part of overall wellness.”

Mental Health America, the national organization promoting May as Mental Health Month, recommends people get regular mental health checkups. A new study from the University of Cambridge, U.K., suggests everyone should get their mental health checked as often as they have an annual physical. Mental health screenings include questions about lifestyle, eating and drinking habits and mental wellness designed to check for potential mood or anxiety disorders, including depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress. People would benefit from having their doctor do a mental health screening along with their annual physical.

Roughly one in five Americans has a mental health condition. The most common is some kind of depression or anxiety, but such conditions are extremely treatable.

“Fully embracing the concept of wellness not only improves health in the mind, body and spirit, but also maximizes our potential to find pathways to help us lead full, productive lives,” Pearce said.

Mental Health Month was started 64 years ago by Mental Health America to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of mental wellness.

Prairie View is a faith-based, private behavioral and mental health services provider, offering a range of behavioral and psychiatric services for children, adolescents, adults and older adults, as well as consultation services to businesses and organizations.