What is mental health all about?
Mental health awareness is growing (yipee) but what is it really all about?
It's fantastic to watch the current drive in awareness raising about mental health grow and reach so many platforms. From social media, to bus shelters, to newspapers and television, people are talking. People are opening up and helping us all see and accept that mental illnesses are common and normal. Mental illnesses happen, just as much for people who get physical illnesses.
Yes, it can be complex, but a lot of illnesses are. I also find it fascinating. A lot of understanding around mental illness can still be classed as theory but this is slowly changing. The scientific and medical research that has been carried out in the area continues to grow. Evidence on the impact of different mental illnesses on the brain and body is building. Advancements in technology and research methods are enabling us to see the science behind many mental illnesses now. This is a huge topic and one for a separate blog but rest assured, mental illnesses are not "all in the head and a load of nonsense!"
So, what does mental health mean to you? As the Mental Health Foundation puts it, being mentally healthy doesn't just mean that you don't have a mental health problem.
“If you’re in good mental health, you can:
* make the most of your potential
* cope with life
* play a full part in your family, workplace, community and among friends.”
(Mental Health Foundation)
For me, good mental health is about:
· Feeling able to cope with everyday life in a positive way.
· Enjoying life.
· Having the ability to feel, show and manage my emotions (both positive and negative),
· Establishing and maintaining my relationships with others,
· Feeling that I am able to cope with everyday life and manage the challenges regularly thrown at us.
However, sometimes in life things can become a bit much and it can spark something within us that results in poor mental health. A hectic lifestyle, stress at work or at home, a lack of healthy habits (I’m thinking along the lines of poor diet, alcohol, drugs, exercise and sleep habits), a traumatic experience, a physical illness, or a bereavement are among examples that can influence mental health.
At this juncture I think it's important to note that we are all unique and individual. What may affect one person may not affect another and vice versa. Our personalities, traits, life experiences and socialisation all shape us into the people we are. In other words, be kind everybody, do not judge people based on your own experiences, you cannot feel what another person is feeling!
If you do find yourself in the position that you are in poor mental health what can you do about it?
Above all reach out! Please do not bury your head in the sand and ignore it, this will inevitably end up having a further negative effect on your health.
If you can, speak to a loved one, relative or friend. You don’t need to tell them details, just open up a conversation and let them know that you are currently struggling.
If you don’t want to speak to a somebody close to you there are other ways to reach out. Make an appointment with your GP or pick up your mobile and call a helpline in your area, e.g. The Samaritans, Lifeline or your regional mental health charity’s helpline if they have one.
Go online – some people simply cannot talk about their problems to others and there is a wealth of information and help out there on the internet. So, get googling. N.B. While I recommend this avenue, I will add a caveat here; please use respected and trusted sites such as official mental health charity websites, chat rooms and forums. There is also a lot of mis-feeding and inaccurate information on the net so save yourself the stress and go to a well-established charity as a good first stopping point for information and support.
Check out alternatives for help in your local vicinity. If you don’t want to visit your GP many areas provide counselling services, which could be either private or charitable practices. Regional charities may also provide counselling services for your particular worries in your locality.
If you have a burden that is weighing you down but you don’t feel that it warrants the above action you could try getting it off your chest by journaling or writing a letter to yourself. It really does help! If you are worried about somebody finding the journal or letter you could write it in a word processing document like Microsoft Word online and save it securely on OneDrive (there are plenty of other drives out there like Google Drive). Another option is to us an app on your mobile, you can even pin code many of these apps so nobody can get access to them! Check out,
I plan to review some useful mental health apps in the future. If you know of any please do share them.
Without wanting to sound like a broken record, please do not do nothing. I can speak from experience that this method does not help. If you’re not sure what to look out for that would indicate that your mental health may be deteriorating look out for these signs and symptoms:
· Feeling sad or down
· Poor concentration
· Being easily distracted
· Worrying more
· You find it hard to make decisions
· You are less interested in day-to-day activities
· You withdraw from friends and activities
· You don’t want to talk as much
· You may feel overwhelmed by things
· You may feel unable to cope with making decisions or managing daily problems and stress
· Feeling emotional and/or teary
· You may it difficult to control your emotions
· You could be irritable, aggressive or short tempered
· You are always feeling tired and have no energy
· Your sleeping pattern changes; you may be sleeping more or less
· Your conversations may become erratic, talking more or talking very fast, jumping between topics and ideas
· You may start drinking more, partake in more recreational drug use, have major changes in eating habits
· Your sex drive may change
· You may have trouble understanding conversations and relating to people
· You may experience detachment from reality, paranoia or delusions
· You may have suicidal thoughts and ideations. Please seek immediate medical help if you feel like this!
I keep hearing this, and at many a time over the past two years I have yearned for it but I didn’t think that it would happen for me this time. Trust me, I have been in many a dark place and if it wasn’t for my children and partner I may not be here. I am still only in the early stages of recovery but the small steps that I have made show me that I can do this again. Life is for living and I want joy back in my life so I’m determined to keep fighting and recovering.
My last piece of advice when you are wondering about the state of your mental health or are trying to recover is to be gentle with yourself. It took me a year to realise that I needed to do this. Sometimes time is the most precious gift that you can give your mind and body. You may only need a few days, weeks or months but if it even take years do it. Time stands still for no one so keep taking little steps forward to a better you. I intend to write a separate article on other steps you can take shortly.
Should anything in this article raise concerns about your health and make you realise you may need some more information please follow the steps in the reaching out section. Likewise, if you think you know somebody that may be showing signs of deteriorating mental health talk to them. It’s good to talk and you may just be the little nudge they need to reach out.
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