Mental illness is more common than cancer, lung disease and heart disease combined - one reason why May has been designated Mental Health Month. Raising public awareness about mental health issues may help people recognize mental health problems earlier. Identifying these problems when they first appear may help to keep them from getting worse.

The number of youth diagnosed with mental illnesses is more significant than many people realize. Studies show that, at any given time, at least one in five children and adolescents may have a mental health problem, and the number of youth using psychiatric drugs is rising. The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reports that in a ten-year study of 900,000 youth, psychiatric drug use rose 2 to 3 times, to approximately 6 percent. Adding to the treatment options for youth, in January 2003, the Federal Drug Administration approved the drug Prozac to treat depression in youth.

The National Mental Health Association urges parents to help their teenage children learn how to improve their mental health as one way to observe Mental Health Month. The association recommends that teens try these tips for a week and see how they can improve the health of their minds and bodies:

Sunday: Relax by meditating, taking a long walk, or reaching out spiritually through prayer. Quiet reflection, alone or in the company of others, can improve your state of mind, strengthen your sense of self and community, and give you time to collect your thoughts and prepare for the week ahead.

Monday: Make a plan. Decide what tasks you need to complete for the week and make a plan for when and how to do them. If you are overscheduled, decide what can wait a week or two. If you don't have much on your schedule, plan some activities you'll look forward to.

Tuesday: Surround yourself with supportive people. Spend time with family or friends. Reconnect with someone you have lost touch with.

Wednesday: Take care of your body. Taking care of yourself physically can improve your mental health. Stay away from alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs; drink plenty of water; eat healthy foods; and get enough rest.

Thursday: Give of yourself. Volunteer your time and energy to someone else. You'll feel good about helping someone in need, and it's a great way to meet new people.

Friday: Broaden your horizons. Explore new interests by taking a class; visiting a museum, gallery, or park in your hometown; or starting a journal.

Saturday: Value yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid saying harsh things about yourself. Make a list of your accomplishments, gifts, talents and skills. Pull it out next time you need a lift.