Mental Health Awareness
What is mental health?
Just spend a moment thinking about how you would answer that question before reading on…
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Mental Health as: “Not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, is able to cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Good mental health is the ability to feel, think and act in ways that enhance one’s ability to enjoy life and deal with challenges (definition from the Public Health Agency of Canada). Which I think is a really nice definition. Our mental health affects the way we think, feel and behave.
It’s interesting that when we say mental health, often we think instantly of mental ill health things like depression, anxiety, low moods etc. Yet if I was to ask what is physical health? Quite often we think of things like physical activity, exercise, a healthy diet, all positive things. So, just like we all have bodies and physical health we all have a brain and all have mental health. Mental health is just as important as your physical health!
It is worth noting, that everyone has bad days, it is totally normal to have low days or days where you feel de-motivated. It is when we are having more bad days than good, it’s when our mood starts to impact our day to day living that’s when we should probably seek support. From time to time our mental health needs may become problematic and sometimes even stop us from doing the things we normally do. Having positive mental health is a fundamental component of good health.
The Mental Health Continuum
Mental health is often referred to as being on a continuum. We all fit on this continuum somewhere and where you sit on that continuum will vary day-to-day and will effect how you react to different situations in every day life. It is also really important to remember that those with a mental illness can still experience positive mental well-being.
Mental Ill Health
If you go through a period of poor mental health or mental ill health, you might find the way your thinking, feeling or reacting becomes difficult, or even impossible to cope with. This can feel just as bad as a physical illness, or even worse. A mental illness is distress and dysfunction that goes deeper than a reaction to even extreme life stressors.
We need to keep raising awareness of mental health and get more comfortable talking about it. Mental ill health should not be seen as a weakness, suicide is the biggest killer in young men under the age of 45, which is an appalling statistic. Mental health awareness is improving and I think people are certainly starting to feel more comfortable talking about it, but there is still a lot to be done.
Mental health issues affect around one in four people in any given year in the UK. They range from common issues, such as depression and anxiety, to less common conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The number of people saying that they have experienced mental health issues while in employment has climbed from a quarter to a third over the last five years (1 in 3 people). In some ways this might be seen as positive. Has prevalence actually gone up that much, or are we breaking down stigma? It could be that more people are opening up and speaking out about their mental health experiences, rather than struggling and keeping it to themselves.
Mental ill health is the second biggest cause of sickness absence in the UK. It is estimated that around 70 million working days are lost every year because of mental ill health, costing Britain between £70bn and £100bn each year. So, companies and organisations are putting things in place to help support their employees. This includes mental health first aiders, mental health champions and also promoting occupational health services.
A mental illness is a diagnosable, and treatable, health condition which can be severe enough to disrupt everyday life. The most common mental illnesses are:
• Bipolar disorder
• Post-natal depression
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
How can we enhance our mental health?
There are many things we can do to enhance our mental health. Have a think about the following questions:
- What do you currently do that helps support your mental health?
- What do you currently do that negatively impacts your mental health?
- What could you start doing to improve your mental health?
Things you can do specifically at work:
- Make use of the support that is offer, mental health champions, employee assistant programs, wellbeing resources.
- Speak with your line manager, try to be open and honest.
- Make sure you take your lunch break and try to actually get away from your desk.
- Ensure you take your annual leave and spread it out evenly throughout the year.
- Protect that work/ life balance, finish work on time.
- Support and encourage each other, try to create nice open and honest relationships with colleagues.
Lifestyle changes you can make to improve your mental health:
- What we eat can impact our mood, just like our mood can affect the food we want to eat.
- It is important for both our physical and mental health that we try to maintain stable blood sugar levels. To do this, we need to eat real whole foods and less processed foods.
- Make sure you eat your good fats (Omega 3’s). Omega 3’s are not only important for our health but also for our happiness, they are actually thought to increase a natural antidepressant brain chemical called dopamine by up to 40%.
- Vitamin D ‘the sunshine vitamin’ has been found that it can elevate our mood. From the months of October through to April in the UK it is advised that we supplement 10mg of Vitamin D a day due to the lack of sunshine and wavelength of light.
A healthy diet is just one part of the puzzle, physical activity is also really important for both our physical and mental wellbeing. Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilise mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. As little as five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects. So you don’t need to be an athlete to get these positive responses from exercise.
Disrupted, broken or simply not enough sleep can be debilitating and is linked to a range of health conditions, including mental ill health. There is no single major system within the body or brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced when we get a good nights sleep or detrimentally impaired when you don’t get enough. Make your sleep a priority.
Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can enable you to change the way you think and feel about your experiences, especially stressful experiences and how we approach challenges. As a mind-body approach, it can increase our ability to manage difficult situations and make wiser choices. There is a growing body of evidence has found that when people intentionally practice being mindful they feel less stressed and it has been linked with reduced mental ill health.
Never underestimate the power of talking. Like they say, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Make time to talk to others, and try to be open and honest. Hopefully you can think of at least one person you feel you can truly open up to. If not, it might be worth thinking about talking therapies. Support each other and be there for each other, make time to listen to each other.
If you have any concerns about your mental health, it’s time to talk! Make sure you don’t suffer alone, go and seek some support!