Understanding mental health
"Mental Health” is a real buzzword at the moment, people raising awareness of mental health, people talking about mental health and lots of articles in the papers and programmes on the telly, all about mental health. Yet we don’t consider our mental health in the same way we think about our physical health. We don’t say “physical health” and automatically think it must be bad, but this is what we do with our mental health. What we usually mean when we say ‘mental health’ is poor mental health. So what is mental health? And how do we nurture it?
Mental health is just like physical health, we all have it, and we need to take care of it. It includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being, and affects how we think, feel and act.
So what is poor mental health?
The stats tell us 1 in 4 people are affected by poor mental health, it could be a common mental health illness such as depression or anxiety, or something more severe such as bipolar or schizophrenia, or even simply finding it difficult to complete daily tasks and live up to expectation. We live in a society that talks about mental health a lot, but fails to accept mental health problems can be just as bad, sometimes worse, than a physical health problem or illness.
What causes poor mental health?
Well, there is a genetic aspect to it, with what we inherit from our ancestors making us more likely to have mental health issues. Other contributory factors could include, the environments where we spend time, rapid social change, such as we have experienced during COVID-19, a poor working environment, discrimination, an unhealthy lifestyle and physical illness.
When our mental health is in tip-top condition we’re able to:
See our own amazing potential
Cope with the everyday stresses of life
Enjoy our work and contribute productively
Connect with the people around us
Rather than it being about a ‘problem’, it’s really about what is actually going well for us. Mental health is often described as a continuum where good mental health lies at one end and severe mental health issues at the other, and it’s not a fixed state, instead, we are able to move back and forth along this line throughout our lives.
It’s important to remember that mental health is complex; someone who is not experiencing a mental health problem is not guaranteed to be happy or to have flourishing mental health. It’s also possible to receive a diagnosis for a mental health condition while feeling pretty good. That’s why it’s so important to take care of our mental health and not wait to have a problem.
If we want to maintain our mental health, then we should try these:
Stay connected with others – personal connections with friends and family for support are so important.
Get professional help when needed – guidance and support from a professional can be incredibly beneficial to improving our mental health. It’s not for everyone and not everyone needs this support. However, a therapist provides a space for honesty and progression; they can help to keep us accountable on our journey to better mental health.
Stay positive – focusing on the positive will always boost good mental health, this is not to say the negative means nothing there are lessons in those times but being able to refer back to a positive time can reassure us that things do get better.
Get active! Move, walk, dance, jog, try yoga. Physical activity can really support our mental health.
Help others – helping other people can give us a huge sense of purpose, even when we’re not at our best. That reminder that someone needs us in their life can reassure our worth and boost our wellbeing.
Get enough sleep – Poor sleep and poor mental health are closely connected – nip over to Sleepingwell to find expert advice on improving sleep. Good mental health can be much easier after some shut-eye!
Develop coping mechanisms – We have put together toolboxes, tips and guidance on this, so pop along and have a look at Copingwell to help you sustain and develop your mental health.
Strengthen brainpower - good cognition allows us to develop mental resilience and prevent poor mental health. Check out Thinkingwell to measure and empower your brains health.
We hope this has provided some insight and clarity to what mental health is all about. Ultimately, mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationships – and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.
Final thoughts: Someone doesn’t need a diagnosable issue to experience struggle and vice versa – so rather than going on social media and posting about #bekind actually try and be kind to all, you never know what someone else is going through!