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Understanding Mental Health

Getting the conversation started on mental health

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Understanding Mental Health Problems

“How is your mind today?”

Is that a question you have ever been asked?…

Unlikely.

Would it be considered rude if you knew someone had a broken bone or a physical illness and you didn’t ask them how they were?

So why not for mental illness?

Why, when you have a mental disease, is it always considered an act of imagination? Why is it that every organ in your body can get sick and you get sympathy except the brain?

Ruby Wax in Frazzled.

People who suffer from mental illnesses are often afraid to say how they feel due to a fear of being judged.

People who are concerned about someone suffering from mental illness never ask because they fear offending them, or don’t know how to deal with the consequences if someone opens up.

The objective of this article is to quash those fears, help you understand mental illness and provide you with useful resources, so you (or a friend) know where to go for help.

Please share this article to help those in need! Just one share could save a life… We defeat this problem by working together as a community, supporting and educating wherever we can!

Mental Health Awareness – Problems In Society

Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50 in the UK (www.mentalhealth.org) and 25% of the world’s population will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives (World Health Organisation).

These statistics prove that there is an issue!

So why don’t we do more?

It’s quite common to be trained in first aid – having the ability to deal with a physically injured person until full medical treatment is available – but have you ever heard of first aid for the brain?

You wouldn’t consider going up to someone suffering from Alzheimers to yell, “Come on, get with it, you remember where you left your keys?”

Ruby Wax in Frazzled.

Checking a person is breathing, checking for a pulse and performing CPR are very important skills that save lives but so is the ability to talk someone out of suicide, drug misuse or a reckless decision.

To be able to do more, we must first understand what mental health (and mental illness) is…

What Is Mental Health?

Mental Health is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as:

A state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

There are so many key terms in this definition, each meaning slightly different things. So let’s break them down…

  • Realising potential
  • Coping with the stresses of life
  • Working productively and fruitfully
  • Contributing to the community

Realising potential

People often fall into a state of depression when they don’t believe they are achieving the standard that they are capable of.

Now this can be in many fields… Sport, business, relationships, social status or what the person perceives as “life.”

There two bold words above, “believe” and “perceives” are critical!

Mental health and positivity is heavily dependent on how individuals frame their thoughts. You may have heard the phrase “perception is everything,” well, in this case, it really is!

Motivational tools such as setting goals, dreamlining and visualisation work extremely well if they are “framed” in ways that allow you to enjoy progress, rather than worry about the end result.

“Enjoying the journey” is the important part!

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.

David McCullough Jr.

Once you set goals that you enjoy working towards they can then be constantly reset, allowing you to enjoy new journeys throughout different chapters of your life.

Lets face it, you can never achieve everything so there will always be enough challenges for you to take on!

Coping with the stresses of life

It is normal for everybody to have ups and downs in life, nobody is happy all of the time.

We are all affected by at least one negative event or experience; such as: relationship difficulties, work problems, bereavement, child-rearing, financial trouble, social issues; the list goes on!

It’s important to note that all of these things can interfere with our levels of happiness and fulfillment but if our mental health is in good shape, we find ways of coping and managing such difficulties.

Just one way of coping with these difficulties is to study Stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of dealing with hardship without complaint, which has been used by great leaders past and present.

Remember, you will go through tough times in life and being sad does not necessarily mean you are mentally ill.

The vast majority of mental issues are not due to chemical imbalances or physical deficiencies in your brain, they are a result of your perceptions (there’s that word again!).

Drugs are often not the answer, you just need a little time and resilience!

Working productively and fruitfully

This is very closely linked to realising potential (above) and contributing to community (below).

As an individual, your mental health depends on you working in a way that you find productive and in a way that will help you to achieve potential.

It’s the opposite to being mentally inactive throughout your life.

You have surely heard the story of someone who went through a midlife crisis who thought, “I can’t sit around doing this any longer – I need to live.”

This is all part of enjoying the journey, contributing to society, being good at what you do and being recognised for it. It’s your way of being you!

As mentioned in “realising your potential” (above), constantly working towards an end goal helps with your productivity. If that end goal is important (fruitful) to you, then your mind is generally much more focused and resilient.

Contributing to the community

Community is at the heart of human nature!

As a species, there is no doubt, we have achieved extraordinary things! Just look at the world around you. It’s extraordinary. However, we have not achieved these things by being individuals!

In order to survive, we have had to work as a community – hunting, foraging, child-rearing, building, migrating; humans have always needed to cooperate in order to survive and colonise.

So why is this important for mental health? Well, being part of (and contributing to) a community has been hardwired into our psyche since the beginning of our species!

Not being part of (or contributing to) a community is against human nature.

Just like if you digest something that has not been accepted throughout generations of development is going to do damage to your body, going against your natural instincts and avoiding relationships will damage your brain!

Studies have recently been conducted on “Blue Zones” – places around world where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else on earth. The top three characteristics of people who lived in these areas included (in no particular order):

  1. Having the right tribe
  2. Having a feeling of belonging
  3. Prioritising family

Other characteristics observed amongst older “Blue Zone” communities included: good nutrition, resting, having a purpose and moving naturally, but these were all less common.

Community is important people!

Causes Of Mental Illness

The exact cause of most mental illnesses are unknown; however, through the development of science it is becoming clear that many conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

And it’s not just the brain that is affected… biological, psychological and environmental factors all play a crucial role in our overall health too! You may have heard the phrase “where the mind goes the body follows.”

Just one example of this is the affect on people’s skin when they are clearly stressed and under-rested. It’s often very easy to see if someone hasn’t had a good night’s sleep or they are stressed just from their complexion.

Getting these three things right is not only crucial in your own life but also in understanding if someone else is suffering.

Mental illness

Some specific reasons people become mentally ill include:

  • Genetics – Some people are just born with abnormalities or chemical imbalances in the brain.
  • Infections or injury – Certain infections, diseases, exposure to toxins or physical injuries can cause mental illness.
  • Severe or long term stress – As discussed in the “coping with the stresses of life” section (above) of this article: financial trouble, relationship problems and social issues can all cause mental health problems.
  • Social isolation or loneliness – Stay-at-home mums, elderly people, unemployed people and socially unaccepted people can all lose their sense of community, leading to mental health issues.
  • Abuse – Abuse comes in many forms from substance abuse to physical, sexual, discriminatory or emotional abuse. Mental illnesses could arise as a result of past or present trauma.
  • Sudden crisis – One big event in someone’s life can causes a sudden change in mental health. A bereavement, being mugged, being fired or losing a home are just some examples of sudden crises.
  • Other environmental Factors – Changes in mental health can be caused by changes in the environment; for example, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Types Of Mental Illness

Unless you’re a doctor, the different types of mental illness are not important at this stage.

This article is all about understanding and recognising mental illness so you can help people in need, not diagnosing specific disorders.

Just so you are aware, some of the most common types of mental illnesses are listed below:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety and Panic Disorders
  • Addictions/substance abuse
  • Eating Disorders (anorexia or bulimia)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

According to the World Health Organisation, the most prevalent forms of mental illness in society are anxiety and depression.

Recognising Mental Illness

This is the big one!

We are not sure who said it first but there is one famous quote that is appropriate here…

The first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one!

So as well as being aware of the biological, psychological and environmental drivers, mentioned above, what else should you specifically look out for to determine if someone is suffering with a mental illness…

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Detachment, distance & disinterest
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Lack of motivation
  • Unable to participate in family life
  • Unable to enjoy anything anymore
  • Sleeplessness
  • Negativity
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Reduced libido (sex drive)
  • Irritable or angry
  • Loss of appetite (starvation) or self-harm
  • Panic attacks
  • Loss of confidence
  • Avoiding others
  • Signs of stress

Now be aware that there is a fine line between noticing if someone is mentally ill or just going through a tough time.

The aim of this article is not to make you a psychoanalyst but just to be a good person. To understand mental health better and offer support when you think it is needed.

You don’t need to go around telling people that they need help, you just need to be a good person and offer support when it’s needed.

If someone you know is going through a tough time, just be there to support them. Talk to them and if you think they are suffering with a more serious condition, introduce them to therapies detailed later on in this article…

What To Do If A Loved One Has A Mental Illness

We have a whole article dedicated to Supporting a friend or family member with health mental illness so if you start to spot symptoms, please refer to that article as well as using the resources below.

For a short guide on helping someone in need, watch this video from the World Health Organisation:

Sometimes all people need is a bit of support and someone to talk to…

Sometimes when I say I’m OK, I need someone to look me in the eye and say I know you are not.

Eeyore in Tao of Pooh

But sometimes people do need therapy…

Therapies For Mental Health

Talk therapies

Talk therapies can include counselling, psychotherapy or psychological therapies. They are designed to help people express thoughts, feelings and emotions in a safe space with a qualified professional to help resolve difficulties.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a specific type of therapy which aims to make the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors, helping develop strategies and techniques to manage negative ones. The aim is to learn to stop the cycle of negative thinking patterns by consciously examining and questioning long-held beliefs and patterns of behavior and learning to change them.

Arts, creative therapies and complementary therapies

Art, music, drama, meditation, mindfulness, yoga and acupuncture can all help with different types of mental illnesses and are all easy to participate in.

Medication

Although we believe that drugs are the last resort in helping a sufferer of mental illness, sometimes medication is necessary, especially if the issue is due to physical (chemical) defects in the brain. Medication can help some people.

Mental Health Initiatives

The Mental Health Foundation in the UK reports that 9 out of 10 people with mental illness, have experienced stigma from society, family, friends and employers; however, a survey carried out by Time to Change found significant improvements in the attitudes towards mental illness between 2008 and 2014.

This has been the result of some great initiatives, such as:

  • Mental Health Awareness Week UK (14-20 May).
  • Mental Health Awareness Month US (October)
  • Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) US (first full week of October).
  • World Mental Health Day (October 10).
  • World Health Day (7 April).

There are also some fantastic ongoing campaigns that have been created by governments and mental health advocate groups such as Time to Change, MIND and Rethink.

Such groups aim to change attitudes in society, helping people understand the complexities of mental health and also promote the fact that people with mental illness are still people, just the same as everybody else.

Labels are for jars not for people.

Lifestyle Changes

Creating a healthy, happy lifestyle is one of the most important factors in warding off mental illness and developing mental health.

This is what My Home Vitality is all about.

We understand that a healthy lifestyle includes good nutrition and consistent exercise, but we also understand that there is much more to a healthy life that other websites and health advocates do not cover, especially when it comes to the mind!

We are so determined to help people create a healthy, happy, well-balanced life, that we have created our very own Wheel of Wellbeing.

Making small, positive changes in each of these areas will do wonders for your mind, body and spirit…

Wheel Of Wellbeing

Exercise:

The saying goes “healthy mind, healthy body,” but the same is true in reverse. It is undoubted that there are close links between mental and physical health. The brain is a part of your body after all! Greater oxygen consumption, reduced inflammation, increased blood-flow and the expulsion of carbon-dioxide are just a few outcomes of exercise, all of which have a positive impact on the brain and mental state. Exercise doesn’t need to be too strenuous, even short walks are beneficial. Just move naturally in a way that you enjoy and works for your body.

Learning and Development:

You can improve your mental health by testing your brain and creating new neural pathways. There are plenty of tips throughout the learning and development section of our website to help you with this. The article we recommend that you to start with is Mindful Exercises. There are also some extremely helpful books on our recommended products page that will aid in your personal development.

Nutrition:

A well balanced diet, with sufficient nutrients, helps to support the brain and its functioning. Three articles well worth reading for feeding a healthy brain would be: Brain Berries And More… Foods For A Healthy BrainAvoid Dehydration! and Eating Well To Reduce Illness. These articles will provide all the advice needed on what foods to consume, how to stay hydrated and what to avoid in order to keep your mind and body healthy.

Rest and Relaxation:

Make sure your brain gets sufficient rest! Just think how you feel after a night without sleep… Snappy? Lethargic? Demotivated? Rest and relaxation is a lot more important for the brain than people generally understand. So create a good bedtime routine, take some time to recharge and enjoy yourself. It’s surprising how just 10 minutes of rest can make a big difference to your mental state.

Relationships:

As mentioned earlier in this article, positive relationships and being part of a community, is vitally important for the longevity of our lives. Try to reach out a little, you may be surprised at how supportive people are. Our articles Supporting A Friend Or Family Member With Mental Illness and Managing Relationships will help you strengthen bonds between you and your tribe.

Mind and Spirituality:

It is important to have purpose and meaning in your life. This does not need to be religion, there are many other ways you can experience this. Utilise tips in our articles Merging The Mind And SpiritHow To Live In The Moment And Be More Spiritual This New Year and Meditation Practices To Try This Year to keep your mind and spirit pure.

Support

Hopefully this article, along with other articles included in our mental health series, will aid your understanding of mental illness and provide you with some useful tools, techniques and resources to improve your life and the lives of people around you.

Below are more contacts and support groups that may be helpful in certain circumstances:

Emergency Contacts:

  • NHS: Call 111
  • Sane Line: 0300304700
  • Samaritans: 116123
  • Mental Health Crisis Helpline: 00300 436 8342

Mental Health Support Groups:

Last Word

In the words of Dire Straits (Brothers In Arms, 1985):

“There should be laughter after pain.”
“There should be sunshine after rain.”
“These things have always been the sam
e.

SLOW PROGRESS IS BETTER THAN NO PROGRESS

If you have found this article useful, want to give us feedback or need further clarification on anything, please use the comments box below.

If you think it will benefit others, please share it.

If you want to help us improve the lives of those with mental illnesses, please get in contact!

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