Updated: May 19
Are you sick of hearing about Mental Health? Good it means we are talking about it more!
I believe that a stigma still surrounds the topic due to lack of understanding. So I ask how effective is the conversation we are having?
How does Mental Health affect us? What’s the difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness? What impacts our Mental Health? Who’s affected by Mental Health?
I hope this blog post may bring you closer to the answers to these questions.
What is Mental Health?
Mental Health is the health of our mind. It’s how well we process information, feelings, thoughts and how that impacts the choices and actions we make. It affects how well we deal with stressful situations, how well we deal with day to day life and how engaged we are with life and those around us.
You may have noticed that there is a lot more talk of Mental Health, which I don’t see as a bad thing. That’s because it costs lives when we keep quiet. According to the charity CALM, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45.
In fact, suicide is the biggest preventable cause of death in the UK. Research shows men account for 75% of all suicides, even though statistically women are more likely to develop a Common Mental Disorder.
This is why we need to talk more about Mental Health because what we are doing at the moment just isn’t working. There’s a taboo and stigma around Mental Health which is especially affecting men. I believe that stems from a general misunderstanding of what it is.
I think once people understand it better, we will be more open to discussing it. Ignorance causes bias, misunderstanding, judgment, and the ostracism and marginalisation of those who need our support.
Mental Health and Mental Illness
Poor Mental Health can lead to clinically diagnosed and more severe forms of mental health issues called Mental Health Illnesses. These can include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.
The difference between Mental Health Issues and Illness is the severity of how it affects our overall wellbeing and whether it is diagnosable or not. Just like getting an illness through poor physical health, Mental Health Illnesses can be treated in much the same way through a variety of therapies, medication and lifestyle changes.
Mental Health should not trigger a preconceived idea of someone having an illness. When we talk about physical health, we don’t assume that means someone is sick or has an illness.
When we think about health and fitness we generally think of exercise and nutrition. However, that is only one part of being healthy. The other, arguably more important part, is the health of our mind as this has knock on affects that manifest in our physical health.
Mental Health, much like our physical health is a sliding scale. We must nurture both aspects of our health in order to live health, happy fulfilled lives.
My own Mental Health Journey
My own journey started around four years ago. After a breakup I found myself getting incredibly angry, which was out of character for me. I am fortunate to have enough self-awareness to understand that this could potentially cause me to lash out at the wrong person (Like unsuspecting bad drivers!).
My friend gave me the number of a guy who helps people with these kinds of things, a therapist of sorts. I went to see him because there was clearly a lot of sh*t going on in my mind that I wanted to leave behind.
What happened then was life changing. My self-awareness and emotional intelligence grew, which really transformed the lens in which I view life.I thought I was “fixed”. I felt like life changed for the better, I had grown a lot and it was time to move on.
It wasn’t until I made a poor business decision that my old demons came back to haunt me. I realised I had also let slip the lessons and practices that helped me progress so much the first time. This bad business decision sent me in a downward spiral that also impacted the relationship I was in.
Mental Health issues aren’t something tangible you can put your finger on, so it’s pretty hard to identify, manage and improve. When someone struggles to understand their own thought processes and demons, it’s nigh on impossible for their nearest and dearest to know what to do.
Sadly, my second large bout of what I believe was depression (I never identified under that label, something which I’ll discuss in another blog) ended in the breakdown of my relationship.
However, a lot of good things came from this second wave of Mental Health issues. I learnt a lot about myself through the process. I gave up booze, started exercising consistently, competed in MMA and attended some meditation retreats. All of this helped me see things clearer and the clouds began to part. (Lot’s of tools from the toolbox were used and some new ones found!)
Mental Health Vs Physical Health
I found it’s the same as my Physical Health. If I want to be fit and healthy I need to exercise daily, get fresh air and eat nutritious food. Likewise, if I want good Mental Health I need to turn up daily and make sure I am taking care of myself.
For me, that involves meditation, journaling, exercise, fresh air, monitoring what information I consume (social media and news) and connecting with people I care about. Now as we deal with a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that I do these things for myself every day.
When I was at my lowest, I found it hard to speak to my friends. I worried they would consider me weak or think that I had something wrong with me. Part of me felt guilty for feeling down because I know I’m very fortunate.
I know this is something many people are feeling now with Coronavirus. We know that other people may face different, sometimes harder, challenges than us. But that doesn’t make our feelings any less valid.
It is for this reason I want to talk about Mental Health. I know there are a lot of people out there, especially guys, struggling and not knowing what to do with themselves in lockdown. You might find it hard to open up. It can feel like we are the only ones struggling to deal with the sh!t in our heads but I can assure you, you are not alone!
What does your Mental Health affect?
Mental Health is so important because it impacts our life so heavily. If we allow our Mental Health to get into a bad space, then the likelihood is it will affect all aspects of our lives.
It hurts our relationships. Our work. Our sleep. What we eat. How we exercise. Our engagement with society. Our passion for the things we enjoy. Our response to any situation. How we talk. How we think. How we speak. How we move.
The list goes on!
Ultimately much like our Mindset, our Mental Health impacts all areas of our life. If we neglect it, then we could begin to find difficulty in doing even the basics expected of us in our day to day lives. Again, this could be something you’re experiencing during the massive life changes we’re going through with Coronavirus.
What can impact our Mental Health?
I believe that there are two main groups of factors that can impact our Mental Health.
Lifestyle factors such as the quantity of sleep, our work and financial situation, nutrition, quality of social connections and the ability to pursue our passions can all impact our mental health. Our day to day routines can either help us encourage good mental health or hinder it.
The daily habits that influence our Mental Health, can also impact on our Physical Health. Often lifestyle choices such as poor nutrition, excessive alcohol and lack of physical exercise will make us feel sluggish but could also leave us feeling down or anxious.
We also now have the big battle of social media which is bringing more negative comparison to our lives, more judgment, more criticism, more detachment and more exposure to potential triggers.
The other large factor that could cause the onset of Mental Health issues and lead to a Mental Illness such as anxiety or depression are triggers. These triggers can either be Chronic (Long Term) or Acute (Sudden Event) and can be related to past as well as present experiences.
These triggers can include but are not limited to childhood abuse and neglect, social isolation, discrimination and stigma, grief, domestic violence and bullying, significant trauma (such as being in combat or life-threatening situation) and general long-term stress.
As well as larger triggers small chronic triggers can also result in damaging our Mental Health. Triggers such as a stressful work or home environment or constant negative comments from friends, loved ones or on social media.
We cannot control triggers as they are often caused by external forces. However, the way in which we respond to triggers can be hugely impacted by the lifestyle that we live.
Choosing to create a healthy lifestyle will not only protect our physical health but also our Mental Health and give us a better grounding to deal with unexpected triggers.
Societal Responsibility for Mental Health
Mental Health issues are not a reflection on how strong you are, but your circumstances, lifestyle and what unexpected triggers you may encounter.
Just as I would not judge someone who doesn’t train in Martial Arts on their lack of fighting ability, we cannot judge someone for their poor Mental Health as we are not properly taught how to look after our headspace (or our physical health for that matter!).
This is especially true as modern-day society is really not engineered towards creating a good environment for us (and I worry it’s only getting worse). The system and our environment are broken.
It’s estimated that 1 in 6 of us will develop a Common Mental Health Problem (Mental Illness) at some point in our lifetime. It’s no wonder when you look at the pressure we’re facing these days. We’re living more sedentary lifestyles, glued to social media, superficial metrics of success, and a consumerist society bombarding us with advertisements.
So yes, we need to talk about Mental Health more and no, it doesn’t need to feel awkward. We all have a body and we all have a brain (although some people make you question that). We can take responsibility in looking after our own Mental Health as well as creating an environment which encourages others to do the same.
Nobody is excluded from Mental Health issues. If we can get rid of the stigma, then we can begin to create an environment where people are being educated in how to look after their own Mental Health and how to help those who are struggling.
Instead of waiting for government and healthcare professionals to fix us when we break, we can take huge preventative measures as a society in order to protect ourselves from both physical and mental harm.
This involves a big Mindset shift for a lot of people and an understanding that we have the power to impact our own lives directly. Check out my blog on Mindset for how Mindset impacts your life.
Shifting your Mindset is a great base for preventative measures and taking steps to create an environment for our friends and family to come forward and talk openly about anything they have going on.
By getting better at recognising when our Mental Health dips, we can start taking action before it gets worse.
This isn’t always possible, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we get in a bad place. This only makes things worse! (Trust me). Sometimes that’s totally out of our control, as we’ve all experienced recently.
Just a note on perspective: Although it’s great to have perspective of our situation and gratitude for the good things we have in life. Understanding that others may have things much worse, when dealing with Mental Health can be a dangerous slope to go down if we are in a bad place.
Feeling guilty for negative or sad thoughts when objectively we know from an outsider’s point of view we may have a good life only leads to greater frustration and self-criticism. We all view life through a different lens, so judgement from ourselves and others is only destructive.
If you are suffering from poor Mental Health then it is vitally important that you reach out and talk to people. No matter what you think, the people in your life do care. Whatever demons you are battling there’s no need to do it alone. Reach out and ask for help.
If you need someone to talk to or would like further information then please visit these great charities that provide online and phone support for those of us that may be struggling.
We’re all just doing our best on our own journeys through life. Look after your Mental Health and be kind to yourself.
Do not worry about what others think as they’re dealing with their own Mental Health (whether they’re aware or not). Judgment has no place in humanity, from ourselves or others, that’s for a higher power wiser and less flawed than us.
My final quote is a lesson I learnt while on retreat in northern Thailand, where I had a stark realisation that for the last two years I created my own suffering. All because I wanted things to be different from how they were.
If only I had accepted the situation as it was and understood that it would pass, then I could have used that time in a better headspace and been far more productive. (However I may not be writing this blog now so I’m exactly where I am meant to be.)
It was a valuable experience that taught me this important lesson.
Stay safe, look after yourself and look after each other.
“All conditioned things are impermanent, when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering” Gautama Buddha