I have a question for you.
If I say, 'Mental Health' do you think of health?
The terms 'mental health' and 'mental illness' are often used interchangeably in the media and it drives me a bit bonkers. For example, ABC TV's 'Mental As' initiative, which I love and support, includes a week of TV programming aimed at raising awareness of mental health and funds for research. But almost all of the shows are stories of mental illness or mental health challenges.
Don't get me wrong, this is vital for reducing stigma and helping to make mental illness better understood within our community. The shows are often fascinating too, but there is limited focus on the health aspect and what we can do to improve and maintain our mental health (although I did find this great article on kindness, health and happiness on their web site).
We know what we should be doing to keep ourselves physically healthy and well. We know about diet and exercise, sunscreen, seatbelts, vaccinations, hygiene and limiting our intake of bad stuff. We are taught it from the earliest days of our preschool education. (We're not always good at doing it but we know what we should be doing).
Awareness of healthy habits for mental health is not so common and just like physical health, mental health is more than just the absence of illness.
Mental health is more than just the absences of illness
Being mentally healthy means having a sense of well being, being able to function day-to-day and feeling confident that we can deal with the challenges and opportunities that life brings.
Many people who have experienced episodes of mental illness have developed good habits for maintaining their well being; habits such as meditation, regular exercise, good sleep, good diet and maintaining social connections. These habits won't always prevent an episode of mental illness, just as we can't prevent every physical illness that might strike, but they can make a big difference to recovery time and a sense of having control.
Those of us who have been fortunate enough to avoid clinical mental health diagnoses, but still wobble a bit at times (and that would be most of us) can get a bit lazy about maintaining a good mental health routine, even if we know exactly what we should be doing.
I'm guilty of this, especially after a long, cold, busy and somewhat stressful winter season. I've found myself indoors too often, sitting for too long, snacking on rubbishy food, working at night and sacrificing sleep for deadlines. It has taken its toll on my efficiency and my mood.
To rectify the problem and get back on the mental health wagon I'm making a mental health promise, as mental health begins with me.
I'm promising to get good sleep (eight hours a night), walk every day, spend at least ten minutes in the garden or outdoors each day (easy now the sun is shining) and eat plenty of fresh fruit and veg. I know from experience that these activities help me to stay bouyant and resilient and there's plenty of research to back that up.
What promise will you make to get into great mental shape?