Are you worried about your mental health? Don’t suffer in silence — you’re not alone. To tie in with World Mental Health Week, we break down some questions around what mental health is, what support is out there if you’re struggling, and some helpful advice on how to practice good mental health.
When we talk about mental health, there’s often a stigma attached. We tend to think of someone struggling or someone who is deeply unhappy. The terms depression and anxiety may be the first thoughts that run through your mind. Perhaps the term makes you feel uncomfortable, or maybe even slightly confused. How do you deal with it? How do you recognise it? How do you know if you, or someone you know, has a problem with mental health?
There are endless questions you can ask around the subject. But the truth is, mental health is so much more than a single illness. In fact, the term “mental health” is often used as a substitute for a number of mental health conditions, such as sadness, depression, suicide, anxiety conditions, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia; the list goes on.
And whilst the concept of mental health incorporates these disorders, when we talk about mental health, the positive side of wellness and wellbeing is often overshadowed.
It’s an expression we use every day, but it’s frequently misused and misunderstood.
So what is mental health?
According to The World Health Organisation, mental health is “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
So instead of focussing on the problem, it shifts towards the positives, steering more towards wellness and wellbeing rather than illness.
Ultimately, looking after yourself and focussing on your health and wellbeing is practicing good mental health. According to Beyond Blue, “mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationships — and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.”
But the nature of mental health as a whole is extremely complex. You could be doing all the right things — eating healthily, getting enough sleep, meditating, socialising with friends, working productively, practicing mindfulness, exercising — and you could still feel like your mental health is not what it should be.
However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental health illness either. “The fact that someone is not experiencing a mental health condition doesn’t necessarily mean their mental health is flourishing. Likewise, it’s possible to be diagnosed with a mental health condition while feeling well in many aspects of life.” says Beyond Blue.
So how do I know if my mental health is suffering?
Unless you’re extremely lucky, the majority of us have all experienced feelings of sadness, fear, worry, or hopelessness at some stage in our lives. At times, those feelings may come and go, but sometimes those feelings can manifest for months, weeks, or even years on end. “Everybody feels down, sad, frustrated, stressed or anxious at times, but it’s important to be able to recognise when a mood or behavioural change has become more than a temporary thing.” says Blackdog Institute.
The bottom line is if you feel like you’re struggling to cope with these emotions, or you feel constantly overwhelmed, it might be a sign that you should talk to someone and seek help.
As scary as that might sound, even just a conversation with someone close to you can lighten the burden that’s weighing on your shoulders. The important thing to recognise is that there is always help out there. If you are struggling, you don’t have to do it alone.
Mental health issues can manifest themselves in a number of ways, and for the majority of people who are dealing with them, they can be confusing to process, let alone talk about them. A traumatic incident may have triggered these emotions suddenly, or you may have been dealing with them for years. They can crop up anytime and anywhere.
Perhaps you’re feeling isolated or alone; you might have constant mood swings that you can’t control; you’re drinking much more than you used you; you can’t sleep; you’re feeling overwhelmed at work; you’re obsessed with losing weight. There are so many triggers than can affect your mental health, sometimes you don’t even realise there’s a problem until those feelings and emotions start to spiral out of control.
The important thing is to pay attention to yourself. The person who knows you best is you, so if you don’t feel yourself, or you feel worried, anxious or unhappy, reach out to talk to someone who you trust and are close to, so they can give you the support you need. And of course there are professionals you can talk to who will also give you help and advice — keep reading, we will list these below.
It may be difficult for you to verbalise what you’re feeling, but that’s ok. Starting the conversation and talking it though will help you process these emotions in a much more rational way. Remember you’re not alone in the way that you’re feeling, many people out there have experienced the same emotions, and there are people out there who want to help you. Reaching out to get help is the first step to feeling better.
If you’re at all worried about your mental health or someone close to you, you can refer to this handy checklist. If you recognise any of these signs, or have any concerns about your mental health and wellbeing, no matter how small, there’s never a wrong time to seek help.
Infographic courtesy of Healthdirect Australia.
Who should I talk to?
The thought of sharing how you’re feeling right now might feel overwhelming. Perhaps you’re figuring out who you want to talk to, who is the person you can trust? It’s hard enough working this stuff out in your head yourself, let alone trying to explain it to someone else. Above all, don’t pressure yourself into speaking with someone until you feel ready. Your feelings and emotions are personal to you, so you should decide when you’re ready to share them.
But if these emotions or thoughts start to spiral and you find it difficult to cope, there are people who can support you. Whether that’s a close friend, a family member, a parter, a support group or a health professional. Remember there is always someone there for you who will listen.
For many people, just reaching out to someone they are close to and trust is helpful. Who you tell is entirely up to you, says Beyond Blue, it really depends on who you trust and what kind of support you’re looking for.
To start, Beyond Blue advises to perhaps share your story with someone you know well – a partner, family member or close friend. Or, if you feel uncomfortable talking to someone close to you, perhaps there’s a teacher, work colleague or manager who you trust to give you valuable support.
This person you choose could help you find and arrange a time to see a professional – they may also be willing to go along with you to the appointment.
Ask yourself a few questions before starting a conversation, such as:
- Am I comfortable sharing personal information?
- Does this person have time to listen properly?
- Do we have a good relationship?
- Do they need to know?
- Am I confident they will keep our chat private if I ask them to?
- When and where is the best time and place to have the conversation?
If they tick these boxes, then you’ll feel comfortable having this conversation with them, and they will want to help you as much as they can.
If you’d prefer to seek professional advice straight away, that’s ok too. You can make an appointment with your GP who will be able to refer you to a specialist, or there are a range of free support services who will be able to help you and point you in the right direction. We’ve listed some below that you can contact for further advice.
Provides information and support to people affected by anxiety, depression and suicide. They also provide a wealth of online information around mental health and wellbeing.
Information on symptoms, treatment and prevention of depression and bipolar disorder. They also list a great selection of support groups that can help you connect with groups of people who meet regularly to discuss their experiences, their problems and their strategies for coping.
Provides 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14, text on 0477 13 11 14 (12pm to midnight AEST) or chat online.
Supporting people living with the day-to-day impacts of mental illness.
A professional telephone and online counselling service offering support to Australian men. Call 1300 78 99 78, 24 hours/7 days a week, chat online or organise a video chat.
A free and confidential service that provides 24/7 support to people across Australia affected by alcohol or other drug use.
Confidential information, counselling and support service open 24 hours to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse.
Supports anyone who's feeling lonely, needs to reconnect or just wants a chat. You can call them 7 days a week on 1800 424 287, or chat online with one of their trained volunteers. All conversations with FriendLine are anonymous.
Free 24/7 confidential and private counselling service for children and young people aged 5 – 25. Call 1800 55 1800.
These are just a few, there are plenty more out there you can reach out to.
Visit healthdirect.gov.au or beyondblue.org.au for further information.
How do I look after my mental health?
As we mentioned earlier, mental health shouldn’t just focus on the problem or the illness, it should focus towards the positive elements of mental health. Just like keeping your body healthy, keeping your mind healthy will improve your general health and wellbeing. So shifting the language you use might encourage you to think of your mental health in a positive light.
Your mental health is your psychological and emotional wellbeing. It’s about feeling good and functioning well, so you need to put aside some time and effort into nurturing it to make it flourish. Particularly in the midst of the pandemic — looking after your mental health has never been more important.
In fact, one in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year.
Looking after yourself is your number one priority. So if you need a few pointers in putting your health and well-being at the top of your list, here are a few tips to get you started.
Understand what mental health is
Your mental health is your psychological and emotional wellbeing, so you need to invest in it like you would any other part of your body. Mental wellbeing is about being able to experience all the ups and downs of life and cope with them in a psychologically and emotionally healthy way.
We know this crops up in pretty much EVERY health checklist, but exercising really does wonders for both your body and your mind. It not only keeps you fit, but it also releases endorphins and serotonin; powerful chemicals in your brain that give you energy and also improve your mood.
Another enduring, slightly over-used health tip, but one that should undeniably make the list nevertheless. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body, so feeding it a healthy, balanced diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.
Practice mental wellness
This means taking time out every day to do something that makes you feel good and your mind calm. This can be anything you love doing; walking, reading, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, catching up with friends, exercising, group activities. Choose whatever it is that you enjoy the most.
Connect with others
Covid has made catching up with close friends more than tricky, but having social connection is imperative for our mental health. Reach out to friends and family, even if this has to be via technology for now, and if you feel comfortable, share how you’re feeling, and invite others to share with you. Build on those meaningful relationships to check in with them and check in that they’re ok.
Try to maintain perspective
Try and view any changes or challenges with openness and acceptance. Remind yourself of things you’re grateful for and things you’ve learned.
Get enough sleep
Getting enough rest is the foundation of good mental health. Prioritising your sleep will help you feel more energised and focussed during the day.
Stress can have a huge impact on our emotional and physical health. Try to identify what triggers your stress, then you can take steps to avoid it or reduce the feelings of stress. Take a break when you need it so you can switch off and reset. Practicing relaxation techniques can often help, but you can also try setting achievable goals, making time for activities you enjoy, and using tools like to-do lists to help you set priorities.
Give your mind a workout
Practicing mindfulness or meditation techniques can help you to stay present in that moment. These techniques give you the tools to quiet your mind, which can in turn, help you relax and stay calm in stressful situations.
Make a mental health promise
If you want to stick to your mental heal goals, make a mental health promise at Mental Health Australia. Just head to their website and write down a promise to yourself, whether that’s exercising more, reading, practicing gratitude, taking time out, baking cakes — the choice is yours.
Be kind to yourself
Let’s be honest, it’s not always easy being kind to yourself. For some reason we’re often nicer to others above ourselves. But it’s so important to practice self-care and self-compassion to boost your self esteem. Make self-love part of your daily routine. What do you like about yourself? Tell yourself out loud, write down affirmations and repeat those qualities until you start to believe them.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help
If things start to feel overwhelming, you don’t need to suffer alone. If you’ve been feeling sad, down, angry, depressed, numb or generally ‘not yourself’ all the time, for two weeks or more, or the way you’re feeling is affecting your ability to cope at work, school or in your relationships, reach out for help. You can start by talking to a close friend or your GP, who will be able to refer you for further treatment, or you can chat to one of the support lines we’ve listed above.
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