All aspects of our health are important to assess and monitor at regular intervals to ensure physical, emotional and mental welfare. While there has been an increase in awareness and public health communications around mental health, there continues to be shame and stigma associated with people and families dealing with mental illnesses. Perhaps let’s start by thinking about what mental wellness is and then consider some indicators that point to mental health issues that need to be addressed in order to restore good health.
As adults – young, mid-life and old – we have many responsibilities to consider, and taking care of our health is one of the major concerns that will impact the quality of life we enjoy. Mental health refers to your psychological, emotional and intellectual wellbeing. Let’s unpack what that wellbeing consists of so that during times of mental illness it is easier to identify that there is a problem. First off, it’s normal to have ups and downs with your mental wellness, just like your body goes through wellness and illness. Having said that, there are also cases of serious illness that require professional care and assistance. Some of the key indicators of good mental health are stability and consistency of personality, mood and mind. When you feel, or other people notice, a distinct shift where you are ‘not yourself’ for an extended time, it is something to be aware of and question. Having a sense of hope for the future, a generally positive outlook on life and being able to problem-solve displays a healthy mind-set. When you are in a good mental space you are able to adjust to new situations and experiences, whether they are good or bad, learn from them and show resilience. It may seem obvious, but maintaining good habits such as eating healthily and grooming are very important activities that show you are healthy. One of the really important measures of mental health is maintaining healthy relationships with friends, colleagues, family, etc. Basically, if you have a good set of life skills, that you are able to consistently practice and implement, it helps you to remain resilient and healthy.
The above examples do not cover all aspects of good mental health, but they are some of the most common and obvious behaviours to reflect on when you feel like things may be getting out of balance. Some big warning signs include serious shifts in your personality, frequent episodes of anxiety or depression, a sense of hopelessness or inability to think about solutions to your problems and when you often feel like you want to be left alone and cannot face people, even those with whom you have close relationships. Now these could be part of a short phase of feeling down, or worn out because you are overwhelmed, or due to a temporary rough patch such as experiencing a major change in life, the death of someone close to you or having a bout of poor physical health. However, if any of these behaviours continue for a prolonged period, you should take note and talk to a responsible, caring person who can advise you whether they think you should seek medical assistance.
Many people who have suffered a physical or emotional trauma or have faced heightened stressful circumstances know that these experiences take their toll on one’s psyche and cause a lack of motivation to deal with even the most basic day to day tasks. Everyone goes through difficulties and some of us will experience great suffering or multiple traumas. This will of course impact and shape your thinking, level of happiness, ability to resolve big and small problems and may even cause suicidal thoughts. These are not shameful responses, but they do pose health risks. They are reasons to seek help – either from medical professionals or your support structure such as friends, family, teachers, HR specialists at work and religious leaders.
There is no one way to maintain balance, it depends on your circumstances, resources, values and beliefs. What is important is being able to recognise when you need help, and taking the necessary steps to get it.