By Okoronjama Ifunanyachukwu.
Since the initial outbreak of the corona virus, times have been stressful and worrying. At such crucial times, it becomes more essential than ever to take care of your mental health. The importance of maintaining your mental health is a well-accepted principle and it has become less of a taboo to openly talk about therapy and mental illness.
What is mental health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Mental health refers to an individual’s emotional, psychological and social wellbeing and is important at every stage of life, from childhood to adulthood.
The World Health Organization further defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his/her community.”
The National Health Service (NHS) defines mental health as a positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope with a sense of connection with people, communities and the wider environment.
It is very important to recognize that “good” mental health doesn’t simply mean the absence of diagnosable mental health issues.
What are mental health issues?
When the term mental health issues/disorder/problems are used, we are usually talking about conditions that affect a person’s mood, way of thinking and ability to cope.
Anytime in life, when you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood and behaviour could be affected. There are many factors that contribute to mental problems, including:
- Biological factors such as genes and brain chemistry
- Life experiences such as trauma or abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
The list of mental health issues that can affect people is a whole lot. However, some common examples are:
- Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders such multiple personality disorders
Why is your mental health important?
As we can see from our definitions, mental health is a subject with a wide-range of implications. Taking care of your mental health can impact your personal wellbeing and relationships.
- Wellbeing: Many studies have shown the link between positive mental health and well-being. These two concepts are tied together and suggest that physical and mental health should often be addressed at the same time. Examples of the link between mental and physical health are:
- Those with depression commonly report gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation and bloating
- Individuals with gastrointestinal disorders are much more likely to a higher prevalence of adverse mental symptoms such as anxiety and depression
- Those with serious mental disorders have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even some cancers
- People suffering from depression are also at an increased risk for cardio metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease; these disorders increase the risk of depression
- 2. Relationships: Whether we like or not, the people around us and our place in society play an important role in our mental health. Those who struggle with their mental health may at times find it hard to maintain these relationships, which often make matters worse; which goes to show why your mental health is important
How to take care of your mental health.
Now that we know what mental health is, let’s look at a few ways you can take care of your own mental health.
Please note that you should seek out a medical professional if you are struggling with your mental health.
- Value yourself: Treat yourself with respect and kindness and avoid self-criticism. Make time for your hobbies or try new things. Valuing yourself and your company is one of the first steps in maintaining a good mental health.
- Take care of your physical health: The relationship between physical and mental health are often talked about, taking care if one often helps the other. Studies have shown that keeping physically active can improve your mental health so be sure to:
- Eat nutritious meals
- Avoid smoking and vaping
- Drink plenty of water
- Get enough sleep; it has shown that a lack of sleep contributes to a high rate of depression in college students.
- Work on your sleep routine: It has been shown that those who suffers from mental health conditions may find that it disturbs their sleep pattern and those who struggle with their sleep may be at a greater risk of developing certain mental illnesses. By attempting to improve your sleep schedule you can help to take care of both your physical and mental well-being.
- Meditation: Try meditating, mindfulness and if you are religious, pray. Relaxation exercises and prayer can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. Research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends the practice of mindfulness as a way of managing depression. Research indicates a positive impact of meditation in reducing stress, enhancing well-being and even helpful for treating anxiety, addiction and depression.
- Stay connected: People with strong family or social connections are generally healthier than those who lack a support network. Make plans with supportive family members and friends or seek out activities where you can meet new people. Other types of social interactions such as volunteering are also known to boost well-being, so it is important to stay connected with those around you. Although it can be difficult to visit people in person at the moment but calls, video chat and messages can go a long way.
- Get help when you need it: Seeking or asking for help is a huge sign of strength not weakness. People who get appropriate care can recover from mental illness and addiction and lead a full and rewarding life.
Other ways to maintain a positive mental health are; helping others, developing coping skills, staying positive, etc.
Mental health can be a sensitive topic, but the more we make it a subject that is part of our everyday discourse, the easier it will be for individuals to seek help.
Apart from discussing it, we can all try to be supportive and understanding of other people mental well-being. And remember a positive mental health allows people to:
- Realize their full potential
- Cope with the stresses of life
- Work productively
- Make meaningful contributions to their communities