There can be no denying that the year or so has been incredibly difficult for just about everyone. The stress and worry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been amplified for many by the restrictions and loneliness of lockdown. At such times, and as we move forward, it’s more essential than ever to take care of your mental health.
We take a look at why it’s such an important topic, how events such as Mental Health Awareness Week can help, and some proven methods for helping you take care of your own mental health.
What is mental health?
Let’s get things started with a mental health definition. The term mental health refers to an individual’s emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. The World Health Organisation further defines it as “a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
What are mental health issues?
So, when we talk about mental health, we’re talking about both internal and external factors that impact an individual and their emotional health and wellbeing. And when we use terms such as ‘mental health issues/disorders/problems’, we’re talking about conditions that affect a person’s mood, way of thinking, and ability to cope.
There is a range of mental health problems that can impact us, and many of these are more common than you might think. A UK-wide study in 2014 found that 1 in 6 people in England reported experiencing a common mental health problem each week. Similarly, data from the US show’s that around 18.1% of the population experience anxiety disorders every year.
The list of mental health issues that can affect people is quite long and varied. What’s more, such diagnoses can only be made by a medical or mental health practitioner. However, some common examples include:
Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder
Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorders
Within each of these categories are often multiple conditions. Usually, medical professionals will classify these issues using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification for Diseases (ICD).
Why is your mental health important?
So why is it important to care for your mental health? As we saw from our definition, it’s a subject that can have far-reaching implications. Taking care of your mental health can impact your personal wellbeing, relationships, resilience, and various other factors. Let’s explore a couple of these areas in more detail:
Many studies have shown the link between positive mental health and overall wellbeing. In fact, the two concepts are closely tied together, and many suggest that physical and mental health should often be addressed simultaneously.
There are several examples where this link between mental and physical health are seen, some of which are outlined in our open step on diet and mental health:
Those with serious mental disorders have a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even some cancers.
People suffering from depression are also at an increased risk for cardiometabolic disorders, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Those disorders – in turn – increase the risk of depression.
Individuals with gastrointestinal disorders are much more likely to have a higher prevalence of adverse mental symptoms, such as depression and anxiety.
Those with depression commonly report gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation and bloating.
The people around us and our place in society play a significant role in our mental health. Studies show that those who are more socially connected are generally happier, healthier, and live longer than those who are less connected.
Those who struggle with their mental health may, at times, find it hard to maintain these relationships, which can often make matters worse. Again, this proves why mental health is important.