Mental health is an individual's level of psychological wellbeing which can affect a person's mood and their thoughts and can sometimes dictate their behaviour. Everybody has mental health, and it can be better, worse or fluctuate depending on the individual. Levels of mental health are influenced by the conditions people are born into, grow up in, live and work in.
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Mental health really means the state of your emotional wellbeing, which affects how you think, feel and behave. Having good mental health means more than just not having a mental health disorder; it means that you are able to make the most of your life, reach your potential and cope with the ups and downs of life. Mental health is just as important as physical health for living a happy, healthy and well-rounded life.
There are a lot of things that can affect our mental health, but one of the main things is stress. This stress can be caused by many things, such as; our jobs, relationships, physical health and perceptions of ourselves. Other factors, such as difficult life experiences, can really affect our mental health and cause more serious issues. For example, poor mental health is associated with job losses, relationship problems, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination and many more factors. It is important we have access to help and support for our mental health when we need it.
People who suffer from mental health conditions may experience low mental wellbeing frequently, although there will still be periods when they can maintain good mental wellbeing. While mental wellbeing is not the same thing as mental health, the two things do influence one another. Prolonged periods of low mental wellbeing can cause mental health conditions like anxiety and depression to develop.
It's important to clarify that good mental wellbeing does not mean the absence of negative thoughts and emotions. Feelings like anger, sadness, overwhelm and a range of other emotions may all still arise, but good mental wellbeing means you're able to understand and deal with the feelings.
People don't necessarily always know they're unwell. Most people face mental health challenges at one point or another in their lifetime. Self-awareness is a form of stepping back and observing your thoughts and feelings as they unfold. It can be as simple as noticing the emotions that you feel when you spend time with certain people or the thoughts that run through your head when you feel scared about trying something new. Or it can be a more complex, layered awareness of how your thoughts feed into your emotions, physical sensations and behaviours. For example, you might notice yourself feeling unmotivated about the day ahead. Your body might feel heavy and your energy low, which might lead you to lay in bed for longer than you intended, which then triggers off thoughts about how stuck you feel and how hard the day ahead is going to be.
Awareness of these aspects of yourself is the first step to change and growth. Self-awareness involves shifting your attention away from what's happening around you and onto yourself. So instead of focusing on what other people do and say, the emphasis is placed on how you think and feel. It's a shift in focus from what's happening around you, to what's going on inside you.
The NHS recommend these 5 steps to improve mental wellbeing:
1. Connect With Other People
Try to connect with the people around you: your friends and family, your colleagues, and the people you see day-to-day. Spend time developing these relationships. Talk to a friend you've not seen in a while, in person or over the phone. You could even have a short conversation with the next person who serves you in a shop.
2. Physical Activity
If exercise is not currently part of your daily routine, try adding it. Exercising two to three times a week has been found to significantly decrease symptoms of depression. Don't think that you have to go to the gym to be active - go for a walk, cycle, dance or even gardening. Find an activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.
3. Learn New Skills
Continued learning throughout our life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life. Evidence suggests that engaging in work or educational activities can help lift people's mood. The practice of setting goals, which is related to adult learning in particular, has been strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing. You could try researching something online that you're interested in; do a crossword or Sudoku puzzle; or read a new book.
4. Give To Others
Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Research into actions for promoting happiness has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing. Even the smallest act can count, whether it's a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
5. Pay Attention To The Present Moment (Mindfulness)
Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. This includes your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness "mindfulness". Mindfulness can help you enjoy life more and understand yourself better. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh things that we have been taking for granted.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.
"It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' - caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour," he says.
"An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs."
"Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment."
"It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives."
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness. It can be helpful to pick a regular time - the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime - during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you. Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.
Some people find it very difficult to practice mindfulness. As soon as they stop what they're doing, lots of thoughts and worries crowd in. It might be useful to remember that mindfulness isn't about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events.
Some people find that it is easier to cope with an over-busy mind if they are doing gentle yoga or walking.
Although mindfulness can be practised anywhere, mindfulness meditation is a more formal practice that involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander. Yoga and tai-chi can also help with developing awareness of your breathing.
While there is encouraging evidence to support mindfulness as a practice to use for mental health, it isn't the answer to everything and may not work for everybody.