What does the term mental health mean to you?
Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘that poor person with mental health, I’m glad I don’t have that struggle’?
Well, you may not struggle with a mental illness but you do have mental health. We all do!
In society we use those words interchangeably when in fact they are quite different.
What are the truths about mental health and mental illness?
I invite you to learn with me about the difference between mental health and mental illness.
Truths About Mental Health?
In my words, mental health refers to your emotional, physical, psychological, and social well-being.
When you say to yourself ‘I got this!” you are likely experiencing positive mental health.
According to CAMH, “Mental health involves finding balance in all aspects of your life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is the ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges you face everyday”
Your mental health can be greatly affected by things such as work, school, relationships, emotional growth, self-esteem, and resiliency.
Picture your mental health on a vertical continuum, with good mental health at the top. When there are changes in a person’s ability to cope and function mental health challenges may occur, as you slide towards the bottom of the continuum.
You can have poor mental health and still not have a mental illness… just as you can have a mental illness and have good mental health.
Truths About Mental Illness?
Since I’m not a doctor lets see what the professionals have to say about mental illness.
“Mental illness is the term used to refer to mental health problems that are diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals. This would include such problems as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and personality disorders, to name a few.” (CAMH).
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. (Mayo clinic) Mental illness can also be viewed on a continuum from serious mental illness to no symptoms of mental illness, as you can see in the photo above.
I have included a little 6 minute video to help illustrate the difference.
In our North American world and much of the developed world we separate the mind from the body and our physical health from our emotional health. I believe when we separate these things we are doing ourselves a disservice and will struggle to reach optimal mental health and/or healing.
As a social worker I believe it is so important to take a holistic approach to health, wellness, and healing.
Thoughts on Mental Health
Regardless of whether we have a mental illness or not there are a number of things we can do to work towards good mental health. One way you can improve your mental health is to work towards a state of mindfulness and intention.
The best way to do this is to start with meditation and mindfulness exercises. (click here for my free 6 week Mindfulness Challenge). What do you do to improve your mental health? I invite you to share your ideas in the comments below.
How to Improve Your Mental Health
I have recently come up with what I like to call the ‘pillars of mental health‘. I am no idea if this term already exists but I started using it this semester with students to try to explain the holistic approach I feel is important for wellness.
In order to achieve positive mental health you need to ensure the needs of each of the five pillars is being met. The five pillars are:
- Eating healthy
The crazy thing is (or annoying), is that these pillars are so basic and so fundamental to not only our mental health but also our physical health and life success. The hard part is that they are the five things you absolutely don’t feel like doing or taking care of when you are experiencing poor mental health or a mental illness.
I know for me that when I am feeling anxious or emotional I feel like sitting on the couch doing nothing, while eating junk food! But hear me out… if you are struggling with you mental health you need to be taking care of your five pillars.
Make it a priority. Make it a non-negotiable.
Find someone to help keep you accountable so that when you don’t feel like doing those things (which you aren’t going to) you do it anyway because you matter!
I know how daunting that list can look when you are feeling blah, so I am going to start you off with 1 simple step in each area to start with…
The 5 Pillars of Mental Health
1. Eating healthy
Start by eating at least 3 meals a day. I know many of you are thinking, “but I don’t eat breakfast” or “I”m just not hungry”. Thats ok, those are just some of the excuses that are going to pop into your mind.
You can overcome them. You just have to decide, how badly you want to feel good? Challenge 1: you don’t have to eat a full meal for breakfast, just eat something – a fruit or a yogurt. Challenge 2: start small. Start with a healthy snack instead of a meal.
In order for exercise to really help your mood it should be an activity which increases your heart rate for at least 20min and done about 3 times/week. Exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous. Start with a 10 min exercise video off YouTube whether thats Yoga, pilates, kickboxing, weight lifting, or dancing. Or even simple…go outside for a walk. JUST MOVE!
I have a whole post on how to create good sleep hygiene habits because it is so important for our bodies and minds but I will summarize with this… Start going to bed at the same time each night, and try turning your screens off about an hour before that bed time.
Those who struggle with a mental illness often struggle to feel good and to create/process those happy chemicals in our brains. This is why self-care is so important. We need to find ways to help our body release serotonin and dopamine. Great activities include having a bubble bath, massage, time in nature, or a favourite hobby. Are you are experiencing so much overwhelm, stress, or mom burnout that you don’t feel like you can engage in self-care? If so, I invite you to checkout this article all about finding relief from stress.
This journey can often feel like an uphill battle and a battle you are fighting alone. It is so important so surround yourself with cheerleaders and accountability partners.
People who can make you laugh, and who you can enjoy life with and people who are always there to support you, and pick you up when you fall. This support may include family, friends, colleagues, a mentor, or counsellor.
I am going to start following my own advice by getting off this computer, and get ready for bed, as its 10:30pm right now.
I want to remind you it isn’t always going to go perfect. You are going to have bad days and dark times in life. when those days come, it is five pillars made from hard work, and perseverance that is going to hold you up and support you when you cannot do it on your own.
Start building that foundation today! I know you can do it, one step at a time!
I invite you to check-in with yourself…. how is your mental health? What changes can you make to improve your mental health today?
Free Mindfulness Challenge
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