Mental health is increasingly being recognized as an important health and social issue. Most often mental health is equated with mental ill-health. We hear about how many people struggle with mental illness and how much difficulty it can cause in their lives and their families.
The courageous stories of people who have struggled with mental illness have shown us that people can recover and live meaningful lives.
However, mental health is not just about mental illness. The reality is that everyone has mental health.
Mental health refers to our psychological well-being. It is helpful to think of mental health as a wellness continuum that ranges from wellness to un-wellness.
What is mental wellness?
Our state of mental wellness does not stay the same all the time. It moves up and down throughout our lives. Tough times in our lives can affect our mental health making it difficult to cope with day to day life. When our mental health is good, we feel well and can enjoy day-to-day life.
Mental wellness is affected by a host of factors (many things) – our genetic (how we are born) make-up, state of physical health, past life experiences, living circumstances, and events in our daily lives.
Mental wellness and life experiences are intertwined and affect each other.
- Work, school, or home life
- Relationships with others
- Appetite and eating habits
- Physical health
- Life satisfaction
- Life events
- Changes and transitions
Mental wellness is not about always being happy. It’s about being able to manage well in your daily life – in good and bad times.
Where are you on the mental wellness continuum?
Consider these key characteristics when assessing your own mental health:
- Are you troubled by distressing thoughts or feeling?
- Can you meet all the challenges and responsibilities of your day-to-day life?
- Do you find yourself dwelling on things you can’t change or predict?
- Are you able to bounce back from hard times?
- Can you manage the stress of a serious life event?
- Are you able to juggle the many aspects of your life?
- Do you recognize your strengths and acknowledge the things you’re not so good at?
- How do you manage change?
When distressing mood, problematic thoughts or behaviours continue over time; are very intense; or are interfering in your life, it’s a good idea to seek support and advice.
- Ongoing low mood much of the time
- Overwhelming intense emotions
- Intense fears of situations or things
- Loss of interest in activities
- Low energy, low motivation, tiredness
- Difficulty getting through daily tasks
- Marked change in eating
- Sleeping problems
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Ongoing thoughts that life isn’t worth living
Self-care for mental wellness
Although mental health is influenced by many factors that may be under our control, there are actions we can take to:
- strengthen our mental wellness,
- increase our capacity to deal with times when our mental health is taxed; and
- recover from mental health problems that disrupt our lives.
What you need to know
- Mental and physical health can affect each other.
- We can strengthen our capacity to function well in our day-to-day lives and deal with challenges that life throws at us.
- Life experiences can negatively impact your mental health and your ability to function.
- There are resources and support you can draw upon when you are struggling or stressed.
What affects our mental health?
What we eat
Our mental wellness can be affected by what we eat – some food choices contain nutrients that help our brain functioning; other foods may have a negative impact.
Tip: For more information on healthy food choices, visit HealthLink BC or call 8-1-1 to talk to a dietician. It’s free and available to everyone in B.C.
What we drink
Caffeinated drinks like coffee, black tea, and cola can temporarily increase energy level, but they can also increase nervousness, irritability or restlessness.
If you drink alcoholic beverages, know why you choose to drink and how much/often you drink.
Exercise is a great stress reliever. It reduces muscle tension, improves blood flow and floods your body with feel-good chemicals.
Good quality sleep rests the brain. Too little sleep affects our moods, concentration, and energy to get things done.
How we breathe
Breathing is something we take for granted – something we just do. However, how we breathe can make a world of difference.
Medications are sometimes a part of our lives. Work with your doctor so they are effective for you and side effects are minimized.
Positive relationships with friends, family and co-workers contribute to mental wellness. People close to you can provide support through difficult times, build your self-confidence, and remind you of your skills, abilities, qualities, and accomplishments.
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental wellness.
Do something you’re good at and enjoy. Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.
What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? Is there an activity you’d like to start doing again?
Our lives seem dominated these days by cell phones and the Internet, enabling us to communicate more messages and more often with others. Think about how your social communications contribute to your mental wellness or if you should consider making some adjustments in how you use social communications.
We all have our own ways to deal with difficult experiences – such as stressful times or dealing with distressing events in our lives. Think about what is in your toolbox. Listen to how to cope in stressful times.
Reaching out for support
If you find yourself unable to get through difficult times or you are having troubling thoughts or feelings that just won’t go away:
- Acknowledge that you are struggling
- Be gentle on yourself
- Reach out for support
Many people avoid seeking help because they fear what might happen as a result of revealing their difficulties. Finding someone you trust and see as a safe person to talk to is key to getting the support you need. Sometimes just talking with someone is all that is needed.
Talking confidentially to someone you trust can help you:
- Feel less overwhelmed
- Find resources that can help you better understand your distress
- Sort through a problem or look at a situation in a new or different way
- Identify feelings that may have been bottled up
- Explore options or solutions you had not thought about
- Feel less alone
What can I do to help me stay mentally well?
Some people find it helpful to be involved in the following activities to stay mentally well. Of course, we recommend that you find activities that work best for you.
- Walk or take a stroll in a wheelchair or walker
- Connect with friends or family
- Visit the local library
- Read a book
- Eat healthy foods regularly
- Have regular check-ups from your family doctor
- Take your medications as prescribed