Mental Health has become a hot topic in the last few years. We often hear about it in the media, and because of more public awareness about mental health issues, more employers are adopting mental health policies and offering employees more support. Whilst mental health used to be seen as something related to mental illness, nowadays people are talking more about the importance of mental health as a part of their overall wellbeing, such as exercise and healthy eating.
But what is mental health?
Mental health is dependent on a certain degree of emotional, psychological, and social equilibrium. It impacts thinking, feeling and behaviour and therefore our capacity to handle stress, maintain good relationships and make decisions, amongst other things.
Good mental health is a vital aspect of us being able to function well in the world, hence it’s importance. There are environmental, social and psychological factors that can affect our mental state, such as:
– Ongoing real or perceived threat or danger to one’s life and livelihood
– Traumatic experiences/ events, recent or historical
– A physical or mental health diagnosis/ symptoms
– Bereavement and loss
– Breakdown in relationship(s)
– Major life change or life crisis
– Financial problems/ stressors
– Work stress
– Loneliness and isolation
– Discrimination and bullying
– Poor sleep and/ or diet
– Sedentary lifestyle/ lack of exercise
– Lack of light and/ or fresh air
– Noise and pollution
It is only human to have experienced one or several of the list above, therefore mental health is of relevance to everyone.
How to Look After your Mental Health?
Environmental and lifestyle factors:
Many people underestimate the impact of sleep, diet, exercise and sunlight on their mental wellbeing. With the increase in the use of screens and less time spent outdoors, especially in the case of children, these very basic factors are not being attended to, with often drastic impact on quality of life. Poor diet, poor sleep and lack of exercise and natural light are interacting factors. Lack of natural light and fresh air affects our sleep, as does the consumption of certain foods such as sugar and caffeine. Exercise can help improve sleep quality and lead us to want to eat better. Good sleep quality helps combat sugar cravings and when we feel rested need to consume less caffeine, etc. Good habits feed other good habits – it’s a cycle.
We all live in society and in communities within society. A sense of belonging paired with a sense of purpose and meaning are significant factors in our sense of mental wellbeing. We all need social connections and to feel a part of something. This became very apparent during the Covid pandemic when we saw many people’s mental health decline because of social isolation. Good relationships and good support systems make us feel safer and cared
about. Helping others, sharing interests, exchanging ideas and working towards common goals helps create a positive social loop where we feel that our life is meaningful and our contributions matter.
Most of us have gone through a crisis, a loss or even suffered significant traumatic event(s). Many of us have also experienced challenges growing up in dysfunctional families or under challenging circumstances. These issues when not attended to psychologically, can easily become cumulative and affect our lives in negative ways, often leading to depression or chronic anxiety. Feeling alone with our problems further exacerbates these issues, creating
a negative cycle that is self-perpetuating.
How Psychotherapy can Help
Psychotherapy can help you get and remain mentally healthy in several ways. A skilled therapist will help you address psychological issues such as the ones listed above. Therapy can be very effective in helping people deal with past traumas, life crisis, relationship issues and process loss, amongst many other things. In psychotherapy you can also explore how certain behaviours are affecting your mental health and how to change or improve them.
Sometimes bad habits tell us something about how we were looked after, and therefore how we end looking after ourselves. Finally, it can also help us get to a better place within ourselves and therefore make better decisions. Sometimes issues are multi-faceted, layered, and complex. Being able to distinguish, pick apart and navigate a seemingly hopeless situation is empowering and puts us back in control of our lives.
Sam Jahara is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist, Superviser and Tavistock Certified Executive Coach.
Further reading by Sam Jahara