Taking care of mental health is everybody’s business

When most of us think about health, we focus solely on physical aspects of health and things we can do to improve our physical condition. We tend to forget about our mental health, which is equally integral to maintaining good health and our sense of well-being. At this point, you may be wondering what is this mental health? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is a state of the mind that supports our ability to cope with day-to-day stressors, work towards achieving our potential abilities, and contribute fruitfully to work and the community at large. Contrary to the popular misbelief, mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness. There’s a spectrum of good to poor mental health, and mental illness is an extreme end of this spectrum, which can be pretty distressing and disabling.

Given mental health involves such diverse aspects of life and is integral to our health and well-being, what should we do to take care of our mental well-being? When asked this question, most people feel clueless, often believing it’s just there and nothing needs to be done about it. However, when asked the same question about the physical health, we quickly get into discussions about regular exercise, a good diet, and avoiding unhealthy activities like smoking and alcohol, and many other such topics and their relevance for good physical health – you might not always do them, but you know what you’re meant to do. And we all know that if you are in poor physical health, you have to work harder to get better, change your habits or seek a doctor’s help. So why this discrepant attitude towards mental health, where we take it for granted and believe it will just happen to us. Mental health doesn’t just happen, it is something we must actively work towards. Things such as exercise, healthy eating, and avoiding smoking and alcohol will help both physical and mental health alike. Additionally, you can try some more strategies to improve mental health, such as engaging in activities that help you relax, feel happy, and relive your stress; focusing on developing positive thinking and nurturing attitude towards oneself; and seeking social support and talking to others in times of need. Like physical health, no one strategy works for all. You may have to explore and practice things before figuring out what works for your mental health and well-being. Talking to your friends, colleagues, and family members about what they do to take care of mental health will help break the silence and encourage more constructive discussion about this essential but often ignored aspect of health. After all, when we do things together its more enjoyable and motivating than doing it all by yourself.

You may be thinking talking about mental health to others is easier said than done. Yes, it is difficult, especially when most people lack accurate knowledge about this area and instead hold many myths and stigmatizing beliefs. So what can be done to create more accurate discussions about mental health and drive the message that it’s everybody’s business to focus on mental health and well-being. Here are some simple steps that you can take, which will not help improve your mental health but also those around you:

  1. Have regular mental health check-in with yourself and others:

In our busy schedules, we often ignore checking our mental health. Even if someone asks us how we are doing, we always reply with customarily ‘fine’ or ‘good’, regardless of how we are feeling. This way, we devoid ourselves a chance to reflect on our mental health and talk to others about it. To overcome this, we need to build this habit of regularly checking in on our and others’ mental health and honestly talking about it to our loved and trusted ones.

To check in on yourself, start by asking yourself a few questions. 

  • How am I feeling?
  • Has anything making me feel stressed?
  • Am I doing things to take care of my body?
  • Am I spending time on things that are important to me?
  • Is there someone on whom I can lean on for support in times of stress?

Answer these questions honestly, without thinking about what others will say. If any of your answers reveal that you’re not feeling well, it’s an excellent time to make active efforts to try some strategies suggested above. That could mean taking more time to engage in self-care, join peer support group, or seeking help from mental health professional.

Similarly, check in with your loved ones by asking the same questions. Share your honest responses with them so they feel comfortable opening up with you. Let them know they can turn to you if they need support.

  • Involving future generations

Children are curious by nature and have questions about everything, including mental health. Caring adults can help children understand the importance of mental health from early ages. When talking about to children, do include conversations about their feelings, likes, dislikes, struggles and things that can be done to take care of one’s mental health. Don’t minimize their experience by saying that this will pass, or you are feeling this way because you are a child. What may be small for you, can be significant for them. A supportive conversation, accepting attitude and trust in their abilities will help a lot. Remember, healthy habits picked up in childhood tend to last longer, shape future conversation and can go a long way in preventing illnesses and building healthy societies. 

  • Leverage the social media

Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram can be great forums for sharing information and inspire people to be open-minded about mental health. Share your stories of struggle and things you find helpful in taking care of your mental health, share messages of hope and well-being, and help burst myths about mental illness and treatment. While social media platforms can have a wide reach and impact, they also risk spreading false beliefs and myths. Therefore, you must educate yourself well about mental health and mental illness before discussing these topics on social media. There are many resources online that you can refer to learn about mental health accurately. You can also take the support of psychology students or a psychologist to help draft these messages.

  • Training and Volunteering

If you are really passionate about this area, consider enrolling yourself in short-term courses in psychology and counselling or undergraduate and postgraduate courses in psychology. These courses will help you build accurate and detailed knowledge about the platform and develop skills that can be used to support your and others’ mental health.

Non-government organizations working in the area of mental health frequently need help with specific initiatives and ongoing efforts. You can search for such organizations through google and call or email them showing your interest in volunteering. Its highly likely that your interest will be greeted with heartfelt appreciation. You can also support these organizations through monetary donations, as they are always under-budgeted.

  • Organize awareness generation events

There are numerous types of events that promote positive mental health and spread awareness. You can coordinate a mental health fair that shares resources and information on mental health. You can plan a movie night with movies like Taare Zameen Par, Silver Linings Playbook, and 15 Park Avenue and initiate discussion about mental health and illness in a small group. You and your peers could also hold a mental health promotion event with the support of local mental health professionals and/or university faculty specializing in psychology. Most professionals and universities will be happy to support your community effort.

  • Become part of an advocacy effort on mental health 

Policy changes can go a long way in supporting local efforts to promote mental health awareness and provide access to effective mental health services. Consider voting for candidates who highlight improving mental health in their platforms. You can also get in touch with your local government officials and encourage them to officially recognize and promote mental health awareness events that will provide better access to treatment services.

Your small steps can go a long way in spreading this message that ‘taking care of mental health is everybody’s business’ and can help build healthy individuals and society.

The article is written by Prof. (Dr.) Kanika Malik (Associate Professor and Mental Health Researcher at Jindal School of Psychology & Counselling, O.P. Jindal Global University)

Related Post