It seems to me that if you were to ask people what their definition of mental health is you would likely get a variety of answers. However, they would probably have a common theme….they would define it in the negative, by what is not healthy. We tend to think of mental health in terms of dealing with or treating depression, anxiety, mental illness, etc. Perhaps we need to look at it the other way around.Maybe a better definition of mental health is by how we proactively keep our minds healthy in the first place. Humans are often procrastinators by default so I suppose that it is no surprise that many don’t think about or spend time actively working to ensure their long term mental well being. We have a hard enough time working to keep up our current lifestyles that we tend to not think deeply about the future.For better or worse the future comes eventually though and too many people find themselves suffering mental illnesses that they perhaps could have prevented. I’ve written before about how diet, exercise and certain natural supplements have been shown through various studies to positively improve mental health and function. They have also been shown to reduce anxiety, lift depression and even prevent or delay things like Alzheimer’s in certain people.To have our definition of mental health be solely about dealing with disorders or disease once it happens is really short sighted. The number of cases of depression, anxiety, stress and other issues is increasing. Alzheimer’s and other age related disease will increase as the population continues to age. So the question is how do we shift the focus to prevention rather than trying to put out these fires once they start.First, we have to take ownership for our health. That starts with educating yourself about what is out there that can help you have a healthier brain. Review the information that has come out of the research done and see what worked and what didn’t.Next take control of your medical help. Ask your doctor if he/she knows what diet or supplements have demonstrated success in helping secure a healthy mind. If they do not know or seem skeptical themselves then encourage them to do a little research of their own or find a doctor who has spent some time looking into these things and can help direct you and your health with greater knowledge in mind.Second, we need to change our definition of mental health and perhaps health in general to be about prevention and proactive approaches to a healthy mind. We need to take seriously the fact that our lives are getting longer and that our chances of facing mental issues is increasing so we need to protect our minds now for the long term.Lastly, spread the word. Help others around you focus on their definition of mental health. This is especially true of family members. Help them to get curious about what they can do to keep a health mind. If not, you may be the one to have to take care of them or deal with a mental issue they develop. The cost in time and money, not to mention the impact on the relationship is not worth waiting around or hoping it will never happen. Be active now for you and for them.
Today, more and more people seem to be talking about psychology, therapy and mental health.This year the media has been extra generous in its portrayal of mental health issues. We’ve had multiple soap opera plot lines and docudramas detailing the life of the rich and bipolar as well as a vast array of celebrity ‘meltdowns’. The lay man is enjoying an informed tour of mental health issues, from the comfort of his front room. Or is he?Everyone can experience mental ill health- from the famed, to the less than famed; and if it’s on the TV it must be ok. As the adverts would have us believe, that elephant in the room has been well and truly exposed, with famous faces around the world admitting to a mental health issue or confessing to using medication for said difficulty.With all this in hand, one might guess that a girl about town of today’s world would be more comfortable than ever before in sharing her own challenges. After all, Ms Wax does it, and makes many thousands at the West End doing so. So what does the research say on this?As you reflect on these changes in media coverage over the last 18 months, you may find yourself not so pleasantly surprised to learn that according to research from campaigners at platform 51; A 3rd of women take anti-depressants in their life. Of those, a quarter take them for 10 years or more. And most worrying, 18% keep it a secret from their families. 1 in ten wouldn’t even tell a partner.Alternatively, I noticed that niche holistic approaches to mental health were increasing viewed as more acceptable. Twining’s are even using the wellbeing concept as a marketing tool- to sell teabags! *After all it does seem more du jour to see an executive coach as opposed to a psychologist. And once you’re in in the healthcare system, it’s more acceptable to have a psychologist, than a psychiatrist. What is the perceived difference in this varying terminology, and why do treatments involving medications still have this stigma attached despite being so routinely prescribed?Why is it that young women are reluctant to discuss the use of such medication for mental health difficulties? After all, sales of anti-depressants went up 45% over the last 4 years. That’s 23 million prescriptions for anti-depressants a year.Today’s culture is increasingly driven by ambition and achievement; admitting to feeling low, stressed or anxious is just not a desirable option. One might be forgiven for concluding that it is socially acceptable for a celebrity to have a public breakdown or an overdose; But for the average woman of the world, to admit your finding life a bit stressful or god forbid admit that you just aren’t coping-is just too much social pressure to bear.A recent survey polled by the depression alliance suggests that women often report feeling ashamed to discuss mental health concerns with friends and family for fear of being judged, misunderstood or Labelled. It has been reported that young people in today’s achievement oriented society can often feel a sense of failure, upon receiving anti-depressants; almost a last resort scenario when one cannot think of another way. And sometimes it is. But a last resort is still a choice and that in turn requires that one exercise initiative also.People don’t like to appear weak or inadequate. Seeking help and admitting that they are not feeling good can often be a real struggle as it interferes with one of our deepest fears – of taking up residence in… The out group! Accompanying this fear, is the common misconception that once you’ve moved into the ‘out group’, and experienced a mental health difficulty, you will have it/live there forever. This is a massive misconception that many mental health organisations have been campaigning to change.Over the last ten years, I have been involved in a community project With Leading Mental Health Organisation Mind, and their talking therapies programme. We explore and promote the idea of mental wellbeing as belonging on a continuum. Where one might find themselves high or low or anywhere in-between. We have peaks and troughs, and the key here is-this is normal!Our places on this scale can move up and down and round and round as often as you change your socks. After bereavement you may find yourself at a low ebb, near the lower end. Will you live there, at the lower end of wellbeing forever? No. probably not!You may experience a great achievement and find yourself glowing at the highest heights- elated even. Will you be in a state of elation forever- probably not? The same concept applies to mental health issues. Diagnosis or no diagnosis.Despite all the support and campaigning from organisations like MIND, RETHINK and TIME TO CHANGE It is surprisingly hard to be open about these things. Mental health disclosure takes on a more serious consequence when one explores the workplace: Medical records, insurance and selection criteria. But that kettle can wait for another day.While some research suggests that women may hide their use of antidepressants in an effort to maintain positive self-concept and appearance both to themselves and to others. It is this very seeking of help that is an adaptive and indeed resilient behaviour. A courage which can only denote a strength of character present in one who is unwilling to settle for feeling less great- then they know they can feel, and deserve to feel.So, let’s each consider our own beliefs around mental health issues and the social stigma surrounding it! Mental health in our own personal real lives, the lives of our clients, the lives of our nearest and dearest and the lives of celebrities and those portrayed in the media – where is the heart of this stigma lying? Are collective attitudes towards ill mental health changing in line with their media presentation? – I’m not so sure, but every little helps right!I recently watched an old black and white movie in which the leading lady flashed a little ankle and promptly pecked her dashing date on the cheek. A total shocker! She ran away bashful and shy with all those who saw tutting at her promiscuous and socially unkempt dallying.Our attitudes and acceptance of new ways of behaving do and have changed with the passing of time. What was once a Rare, Risque1920′s ankle flash has now become a plethora of raunchy music videos.I think there may be hope for the subject of Ill Mental health yet.