What is Mental Health?
You can ask one-hundred people to define mental health, and you will receive one-hundred different answers. We have individual fingerprints, behaviours, and methods of madness. We also have different understandings about mental health and what it encompasses.
Many of us will struggle with mental health throughout their life. That’s the consequence of trauma. So too is the coping mechanism of the self-deprecating sense of humour. I hope that you smiled while reading that.
My journey with my mental health has, at times, been one of the most demanding paths I’ve ventured on. At other times, one of the most thrilling adventures to grow along. I even write a weekly blog about coping, called ‘Eternally & Optimistically Coping‘.
To me, my mental health is an essential element of my life. It is the accumulation of my psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. It determines how well I can process the conditions of the everyday world and how free I am from my trauma.
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can make a contribution to her or his community.”
Since you’re on this page, you might think that your mental health isn’t good. Or someone you know isn’t coping that well. Or that your understanding of mental health is the illnesses that come with it. That includes mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders.
Mental health is not an illness. Rather, mental health is how good you are.
Mental Illness envelops a group of illnesses usually referred to as disorders. Mental illness impacts the way someone feels, thinks, behaves and interacts with other people. A diagnosis of mental illnesses requires individuals to meet the criteria. If you have experience with mental illness and sought help, you may recognise the K-10 checklist.
(Image Source: Black Dog Institute)
In comparison, mental health problems are less experienced than mental illness/disorders. Mental health problems also impact the way an individual feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with people. Mental health problems are temporary reactions to the conditional stressors of life. Yet, without proper treatment, they may escalate into mental health disorders.
Even though I’ve been in therapy for five years, I am still on the road to healing. I will be for a few more years. So I am quite comfortable telling people that I am in therapy if it comes up in conversation. I used to hide it away, even the fact that I was on anti-anxiety medication. But I have come to learn that if someone is not willing to accept me, poor mental health and all, then that isn’t my person. And that’s okay.
There is a vast disparity that surrounds mental illness because of stigma. Mental Health Stigma refers to negative descriptions of people with mental illnesses. Usually, the terms include dangerous, crazy and psychotic because they have a mental illness. This is quite dangerous because the stigmatised person is already suffering, likely in a mental state of isolation.
A large part of mental health stigma is a lack of education. People don’t understand the difference between mental health and mental illness. Society has portrayed the poorest and neediest of the world’s population as incapable of functioning in society. The implication is ‘there is something wrong with them’, rather than there is something wrong with the society that shuns them.
For example, there is an argument about homeless people. Why don’t they get a job? We can’t remove homelessness from this person’s context. That is not to say that all homeless people have mental health issues. The harsh reality and stigma of homelessness contribute to the attainment of mental illness for that individual and the continued abandonment of society.
We would need then for society to collaborate with this person, and people who have mental illnesses. Then, the person can begin to heal and grow towards mental health. And then, they can effectively contribute to society at no harm to their mental and physical health.
Romanticising Mental Illness
The romanticism of mental illness in pop culture is the storyline that mental illness is ‘cool’ and something to gain. But mental illness differs in individual contexts. People don’t understand the struggle a person with a mental illness has in their day to day life to meet societal expectations.
By type-casting people, we resort them to a stereotypical function in society. The bad boy with mummy issues, the good girl with daddy issues, the alcoholic mother, the abusive father. The quirky nerd who fantasises about death as a maladaptive coping mechanism. All these people suffer to varying extents. The consequences of mental illness and the romanticism of it are that people are further dragged into their disorder.
The people around them are also limited to stereotypes. The son of the crazy drunk, the daughter who raised her siblings because her parents had their own trauma. Those people submerge into the expectation of the mental illness of the people in their life. Consequently, they are likely to develop complex trauma.
Worse, the romanticism of mental illness glorifies the struggle to heal. People say things like, ‘you don’t have it that bad’, ‘I know someone who survived so and so, and they’re doing alright’, ‘Keep going!’ It is interesting that in the romanticism of mental illness, is the emergence of toxic positivity. Just keep going, you’ll be alright.
But that is not true. The consequences of idolising people with mental illness but not assisting those people often leads to dire outcomes. I fear it is going to leave a stain on human history just as the history of exploitation has too.
Symptoms of Diminishing Mental Health
There are many types of mental illnesses. Common types include anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders. There are also quite a few causes for illness such as genetics, substance abuse, suffering a traumatic event and isolation.
But there are a handful of standard warnings signs for a decline in mental health:
- Contrasting high or low moods
- Socially withdrawing
- Feelings of sadness and irritability lasting for extended periods
- Fear, anxiety and worry occurring excessively
- Dramatic changes to sleeping and eating habits and patterns
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is crucial to seek help. In particular, after experiencing one of the causes of mental illness. Your GP can help you complete documents and find professional help.
I find pleasantries such as ‘you are not alone’ redundant.
But, there is help.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how to be mentally healthy. There are a plethora of tips on how to be mentally healthy and obtain and sustain good mental health across social media platforms.
We know by now that mental health is something that we have to work towards. There is good health and bad health when talking about physical health. And, there is good health and bad health when talking about mental health.
To say that I am healthy means that I have good physical health. And, to say that I am mentally healthy means that I have good mental health.
Top 5 Tips for being Mentally Healthy
Seek Professional Help
This isn’t going for a chat with your friends over a cup of tea, or a bottle of alcohol. It is seeking the help of a qualified professional. I have very few friends that I can confide in. Those that I do, I sometimes don’t want to burden them with issues that I am having. Take advantage of the professionalism of a counsellor or psychologist. You will learn skills to better cope with stresses, fears, and pain you face in everyday life.
Drink Responsible Amounts
Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is a fast track way to upgrade your problem to an illness. While social drinking can be fun, excessive alcohol consumption does severe damage. If you’re not sure if you have a problem with alcohol, detoxing for 30 days is an excellent way to check. If you do so, make sure you communicate with people around you that you are doing so.
Eat Nutritious Foods
Physical health and mental health are so intertwined; let’s call them a married couple. The food and drink that you put in your body have a direct impact on your mental wellbeing. You can’t drink a bottle of wine each night and not understand why you’re feeling so sluggish and blah. But, you can’t exist on a diet that does not fuel your body. A body that doesn’t feel loved isn’t going to love you.
Go Walk, Run If You Want To
Research proves that regular exercise is a fantastic way to improve your self-esteem. Which, in turn, improves your mental health. Similar to tips 2 and 3, exercising promotes brain and organ function, which are crucial for maintaining mental health. Getting some Vitamin D is good for the mind, body and soul too – make sure to drink water and wear sunscreen!
Keep Healthy Habits
The power of journaling is so incredible. Writing a daily journal is a fantastic way to keep a record of your life. You’ll also identify patterns and behaviours in your thinking and action. Start with small moments or even gratitude lists, and build your way up! You can download My Free Daily Diary Template, which is a great healthy habit to start. There is a tonne of other healthy habits to pick up too; meditation, painting, drawing, joining a sports team, a cooking class. Find what inspires a smile and gives your mind a break without hurting yourself. Start there and build as you heal and grow.
What does mental health look like to you