Simply put, there is no health without mental health. Our physical and mental health are intrinsically linked, but despite that the two are often viewed very differently. As such, our mental health often doesn't receive the same level of care as our physical health with people choosing to ignore their symptoms or delay reaching out for support, largely due to a lack of understanding and fear of stigma and discrimination. Read on to learn what mental health means for all of us.
Poor mental health is more prevalent than you might think. Sadly, depression rates have doubled during the pandemic and the Office of National Statistics are reporting the highest levels of anxiety since their records began. Those are pretty gloomy and worrying stats when you consider the increase in prevalence also increases the risk of suicide which already equates to around 16 deaths per day. The good news is, our mental health is just as likely to improve as it is to decline. Recovery from poor mental health is likely and possible for all but for a small percentage of people and we'll take a look at what makes for a good recovery little further down in this blog.
"Mental health is 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 or her community." World Health Organisation (W.H.O)
The term, 'mental health', can often be confusing and might sometimes be thought of as simply the description of emotions, or being mentally unwell. The reality is, we all have mental health and we will all endure fluctuating levels of good and poor mental health in our lifetimes, albeit some more so than others and not everyone will receive a diagnosis of a serious mental health condition. When we go through periods of change, loss, pressures at work, illness etc, we may notice an increase in our stress levels and how that impacts how we think, feel and behave. To help view mental health differently, the image below illustrates how good mental health, poor mental health and everything in between all fit together and that our mental health is on a lifelong continuum.
I'll use myself as an example to show how I have moved around the continuum above. I experienced post-natal depression and dropped from Q1 to Q2 where I experienced very poor mental health for around 18mths before seeking help. Why did I take that long? I was terrified about was wrong with me, what might happen, what consequences the label of a diagnosis would bring to my role as a parent and at my workplace. Those fears and worries became barriers borne from the widespread stigma and discrimination that exists, which increase the likelihood of someone moving from Q1 to Q2 preventing them moving more freely around the continuum. Thankfully, after visiting my GP in Q3, I instantly felt lighter as he gave me hope for the future but receiving a diagnosis didn't mean I was 'cured'. Through Talking Therapies, learning about my diagnosis and mindfulness practice I was able to move up to Q4 then back to Q1. I've journeyed around this continuum a few times since and on reflection can see that I had already travelled around it many times before my diagnosis. I feel a lot of people are perhaps sitting in Q2 at this time due to the pandemic, who are not well and could do with a bit of support. Now more than ever, we need to be more open to talking about how we are feeling, leaning in to support each other and normalising mental health to remove the stigma and discrimination that widely exists, so that everyone can live with positive mental health. Why not take a moment now to reflect on where you are on the continuum or where someone you are concerned about might be?
So what we can we do as individuals to recover from poor mental health and maintain a more positive wellbeing?
First, if you are concerned about your mental health, please chat through how you are feeling with your friends, your GP or access support through your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), if you have one at your workplace.
Becoming more aware of the changes that may occur when mental health declines is vital. Early intervention is key for preventing a mental health condition from worsening and promoting a good recovery. Read my previous blog, Spotting the Signs of Poor Mental Health to find out more.
Everyone has the right to live with positive mental health and to realise their own potential. The 10 Keys to Happier Living is a fantastic guide of what ingredients help to promote positive mental wellbeing, for everyone, not just for those in recovery.
Take a moment to reflect on what keys you already invest time and which ones you could give more time to.
If you are concerned about your mental health, please know that you are not alone and help is available, no matter how big or small your concerns are. Some helpful resources are below:
Samaritans: 116 123 - samaritans.org
Giveusashout: Text SHOUT to 85258 - giveusashout.org
Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393 - mind.org.uk
If you are in crisis dial 999 or get in touch with your crisis team