Find out how to take care of your mental wellbeing with these tried and tested tips for mental health first aid.
There can be no denying that the year or so has been incredibly difficult for just about everyone. The stress and worry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been amplified for many by the restrictions and loneliness of lockdown. At such times, and as we move forward, it’s more essential than ever to take care of your mental health.
We take a look at why it’s such an important topic, how events such as Mental Health Awareness Week can help, and some proven methods for helping you take care of your own mental health.
What is mental health?
Let’s get things started with a mental health definition. The term mental health refers to an individual’s emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. The World Health Organisation further defines it as “a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises 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”.
What are mental health issues?
So, when we talk about mental health, we’re talking about both internal and external factors that impact an individual and their emotional health and wellbeing. And when we use terms such as ‘mental health issues/disorders/problems’, we’re talking about conditions that affect a person’s mood, way of thinking, and ability to cope.
There is a range of mental health problems that can impact us, and many of these are more common than you might think. A UK-wide study in 2014 found that 1 in 6 people in England reported experiencing a common mental health problem each week. Similarly, data from the US show’s that around 18.1% of the population experience anxiety disorders every year.
The list of mental health issues that can affect people is quite long and varied. What’s more, such diagnoses can only be made by a medical or mental health practitioner. However, some common examples include:
- Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders, such as generalised anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorders
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
Within each of these categories are often multiple conditions. Usually, medical professionals will classify these issues using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification for Diseases (ICD).
Why is your mental health important?
So why is it important to care for your mental health? As we saw from our definition, it’s a subject that can have far-reaching implications. Taking care of your mental health can impact your personal wellbeing, relationships, resilience, and various other factors. Let’s explore a couple of these areas in more detail:
Many studies have shown the link between positive mental health and overall wellbeing. In fact, the two concepts are closely tied together, and many suggest that physical and mental health should often be addressed simultaneously.
There are several examples where this link between mental and physical health are seen, some of which are outlined in our open step on diet and mental health:
- Those with serious mental disorders have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even some cancers.
- People suffering from depression are also at an increased risk for cardiometabolic disorders, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Those disorders – in turn – increase the risk of depression.
- Individuals with gastrointestinal disorders are much more likely to have a higher prevalence of adverse mental symptoms, such as depression and anxiety.
- Those with depression commonly report gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation and bloating.
The people around us and our place in society play a significant role in our mental health. Studies show that those who are more socially connected are generally happier, healthier, and live longer than those who are less connected.
Those who struggle with their mental health may, at times, find it hard to maintain these relationships, which can often make matters worse. Again, this proves why mental health is important. You can read more about mental health and psychosocial health in our open step.
What is mental health awareness week?
Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event in the UK that helps to promote positive mental health. The event was founded by The Mental Health Foundation in 2001 and has gone on to become one of the most important mental wellbeing events, both in the UK and overseas.
In May each year, organisers in the UK choose a theme and host the week, usually in May. For Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, the event runs from 10-16 May, and the theme is ‘nature’. The goal is to help people start conversations about mental health and encourage them to connect with nature to improve their own mental wellbeing.
A similar event is held in the US. Mental Illness Awareness Week takes place in early October to coincide with World Mental Health Day, which is on 10th October.
What does good mental health look like?
The NHS definition of mental health gives us a good outline for positive mental health, outlining that it’s a ‘positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope, with a sense of connection with people, communities and the wider environment.’
It’s important to recognise that ‘good’ mental health doesn’t simply mean the absence of diagnosable mental health issues. Equally, it’s something that is personal to each individual. For example, our open step on good mental health according to young people highlights several different opinions:
- “When you are able to deal with your feelings in a positive way and being able to enjoy your life.”
- “You not only feel healthy on the outside but also inside. And your feelings are good.”
- “Being at peace with yourself and the way you live.”
- “Being happy with what you are and what you can do.”
- “When someone can interact with people and relate to people’s emotions.”
You can learn more about young people and their mental health with our free online course.
How to take care of your mental health
Now that we know what mental health is and why positive mental wellbeing is so essential, let’s look at some ways you can take care of your own health. Of course, it’s important to first note that you should seek out a medical professional if you are struggling with your mental health.
Below, we’ve highlighted some techniques for taking care of your mental health. Many of these are backed by evidence, although not every method will be suitable for all. Furthermore, these don’t represent a ‘cure’ for mental health issues – they’re to help promote positive mental health.
1. Get help when you need it
The first step towards taking care of your mental health is to seek out help when you’re struggling. Whether it’s talking with a loved one or seeking out a medical professional, getting help when it’s needed is an important step. If you’re in urgent need, you can contact the Samaritans in the UK or Mental Health America if you’re in the US.
2. Recognise the signs
Another important way of looking after your mental health is to recognise the signs when something is wrong. Of course, we all have bad days now and then. However, knowing the signs of poor mental health can help you take action when it’s needed.
Learning about some of the symptoms of mental health conditions can help. Similarly, noting down your own feelings and experiences can help you identify when things aren’t quite right.
3. Talk about it
Although it’s not always easy, talking about your feelings can help you maintain good mental health. Not only can it help you deal with and work through your mental burdens, but it can help you feel supported by and connect with others. Talking therapies, such as CBT, are often used to treat issues such as depression and anxiety.
4. Take care of your physical health
The ties between physical and mental health are frequently highlighted, and taking care of one often helps to maintain the other. Many studies have shown that keeping physically active can improve your mental health.
For example, regular exercise can help with sleep, improve your mood, and help you manage stress and anxiety. One study even showed a 26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity.
Make sure that you have some time to get active on a regular basis. Whether it’s a regular walk, cycle, or trip to the gym (if they’re open), even a small amount of exercise can make you feel better.
5. Work on your sleep routine
Again, various studies have detailed the links between sleep and mental health. Those who suffer from mental health conditions may find it impacts their sleep pattern. Similarly, those who struggle with their sleep may be at a greater risk of developing certain mental illnesses.
In our open step on good sleeping habits, you can learn about how to get a better night’s sleep. By doing so, you can help to take care of both your physical and mental wellbeing.
6. Try meditation and mindfulness
There are various techniques that can help you to maintain positive mental health. Two that have been studied in detail (and are closely linked) are the practices of mindfulness and meditation. As well as decreasing stress, these techniques have been proven to improve mental health and wellbeing.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) even recommends the practice of mindfulness as a way of managing depression. Research has also indicated a positive impact of meditation in reducing stress, enhancing wellbeing, and even being helpful for treating anxiety, addiction, aggression, and depression.
7. Pay attention to your diet
We all know that our diet impacts our physical health. However, research also shows that there is a link between diet and mental health. Although the relationship is complex, what we eat can affect our brain, both positively and negatively. One study found that there was a trend between a good-quality diet and better mental health in children and adolescents.
You can learn more about nutrition and wellbeing with our free online course, which explores the fundamentals of a healthy diet, as well as how food and disease are linked.
8. Stay connected
Evidence shows that supportive relationships with friends, family and neighbours benefit the mental health of individuals and the population. What’s more, other types of social interaction, such as volunteering, are also known to boost wellbeing. As such, it’s important to stay connected with those around you.
Although it can be difficult to visit people in person at the moment, calls, video chats, and messages can still help you to feel part of a community or social group.
9. Be kind to yourself
In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it can sometimes be challenging to take time out for yourself. However, taking time for self-care can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and lift your mood overall.
If your lockdown mental health hasn’t been the best, make sure that you set aside some time for relaxing activities. Treat yourself to a nice meal, enjoy a warm bath, or do something entirely for your own enjoyment.
10. Learn something new
Learning something new, whether it’s a skill or a hobby, can help to boost your self-confidence and self-esteem, build a sense of purpose, and help you connect with others. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out our post on how to find a new hobby.
If you’re eager to learn more about taking care of your mental health, we have pulled together some resources and courses that can help:
- Our range of courses on mindfulness and wellbeing
- Our range of courses on anxiety and depression
- Our articles on the signs of depression and how to deal with anxiety
- World Health Organisation mental wellbeing resources
- The Samaritans in the UK, Mental Health America for the US. For other international resources, CheckPoint has a detailed list.
Mental health can be a sensitive topic. However, the more we make it a subject that’s part of our everyday discourse, the easier it is for individuals to seek help. What’s more, by making it a point of discussion, we can each be more understanding and supportive of other peoples’ mental wellbeing.
We’ve outlined some of the tips for maintaining positive mental health. You can also learn more about subjects such as mental health first aid to help support those around you. These types of psychological self-care can help you and those you care about manage through difficult times.