World Mental Health Day: what are we aiming for?
The World Health Organisation refers to health as the “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In this same way, when we talk about mental health, and good mental health for that matter, we’re not only referring to the absence of mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety but our overall quality of life.
Mental health affects how we think, feel and act, and while many of us have seen, experienced or heard of common mental health problems, many of us don’t really understand what good mental health is. And how can we work towards it, if we don’t really know what it is?
It’s actually characterised by our ability to;
- Recognise our own potential
- Cope with normal stresses of life
- Work productively and fruitfully
- Make a contribution to our communities
Rather than it being about a ‘problem’, it’s really about what is actually going well for us. To illustrate the extent of mental health it’s 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’re able to move back and forth along this gradient throughout our lives.
It’s important to remember that mental health is complex, so someone who isn’t experiencing a mental health problem isn’t guaranteed ‘happiness’ or flourishing mental wellbeing. Likewise, it’s possible to receive a diagnosis for a mental health condition while feeling well in many aspects of life. This is why it’s so important to take care of it and seek help for our mental health even without symptoms of a specific condition.
Grace McMahon, Beingwell's Life Coach, gives us some top tips for good mental health:
Get professional help if you need it – professional guidance and support is one of the most beneficial ways to improve your mental health. It’s not for everyone and not everyone needs therapeutic support. However, a therapist provides a space for honesty and progression and helps to keep you accountable on your journey to improve your mental health.
Connect with others – personal connections with friends and family for support help us build and maintain satisfying relationships which contributes to feeling good in ourselves.
Allow yourself to feel emotions – we will all experience challenging times at some point in life, and when we do it’s important to allow ourselves to feel those challenging feelings in order to process them. Without this we often find things feel worse for longer, even after periods of feeling good.
Maintain balance with your physical health – get active! It keeps the body functioning, but also activates the reward center in the brain which leaves us feeling good.
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 you in their life can reassure our worth and boost our wellbeing. Only offer and help as much as you feel able, pouring from an empty cup doesn’t work so we need to take care of ourselves first.
Get enough sleep – sleep is detrimental to our health and definitely our mental health – nip over to Sleeping Well to find expert advice on improving your sleep habits and you’ll find maintaining your mental health much easier!
Develop coping mechanisms – using self-help guides or working with a therapist, developing coping mechanisms that help you personally will help keep you above water when difficult times arrive.
So, why is it so important to talk about good mental health?
When we see mental health in the media, it’s often portrayed in the worst light (less so now, but it’s still there), it can be difficult to understand what it really means, and how it actually relates to ourselves, especially if we’ve never experienced poor mental health ourselves. You might have seen things online, in the news, or on telly and know what mental health is. But many of us don’t recognise mental health in ourselves because there is such a focus on the severe problems.
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives. This shows the need to understand mental health, to help ourselves and others.
Having good mental health doesn’t mean we won’t face challenging times, difficult circumstances, we’ll never feel anxious or stressed - which by the way, although unpleasant feelings are totally normal parts of life (and sometimes they even help us - would you believe?). The same way we aim to maintain good physical health, taking care of our bodies to function and prevent disease, we can take care of our mental health to prevent issues rising, feel well and be well. So take some notes from the options above, whatever tickles your fancy, and take some care of yourselves.
Final thoughts from Grace: Mental health matters. It can be difficult to recognise symptoms or signs, it can be trickier to ask for help from social or professional support. If you find yourself thinking “it’s not that bad”, “I could be feeling worse”, go seek some support. We’re really good at trying to be ok when we’re not really ok and while sometimes we can pick ourselves up - but would you leave a potentially broken ankle to heal itself because ‘it could be worse’?