The importance of mental health.

WHY?

It can be such an annoying question, however, it is the question that we should always ask when presented with any type of information. When it comes to our understanding of mental health, we should critically reflect and think over the importance for us as individuals and for each other. Ask why, so we can continue to develop our knowledge and understanding of how vital this dimension of health is and the relationship it has to the holistic approach to our health and wellbeing.

Everyone always says how important looking after our mental health is, but how often do we look into that importance? The last post looked at developing an overall understanding of the term mental health. Now we will look into the interrelationship between our mental health, and the other four dimensions.

What are the dimensions of health?

When we explore health as a holistic concept, it means we don’t just look at being healthy as merely the “absence of disease”. To help with this concept, we view our overall health as having five dimensions:

Physical, mental, social, intellectual and spiritual.

dimensions of health

They each play their own important role in maintaining our health, but it is how they interrelate and work together that forms the basis of the holistic approach.

So what does this mean?

Put simply, if one of our dimensions is not functioning how we would like, it affects the rest. Our mental health has such a pivotal role in the impact it has on the other four dimensions. In some ways, it can be seen as the most important of the dimensions due to the affect it has on all of the others.

If we start to slide towards the “red zone” of the mental health continuum (talked about in this previous post), this can have a detrimental impact on our other dimensions and depending how long we are in that area, the larger the effects. We can start to withdraw, lose motivation, fatigue easily, which all can lead to not wanting to talk to people or attend social gatherings that may have been planned. It may also result in a change in nutritional or physical activity habits we already have. There may be a reluctance to focus on things that help stimulate our minds and with the withdrawal, we can start to lose our sense of belonging and connectedness (aspects of our spiritual health).

All of this can lead to a lack of energy which brings us back to lack of motivation. It’s a cycle that can, at times, be difficult to get out of, particularly if we don’t have the know how and the skills to help.

On the flip side, when we are thriving in a dimension, the others thrive as well.

Our mind is such an amazing and beautiful thing……but, it can also be such an asshole.

This is where the benefits of enhancing our mental health come into play.

There are so many different benefits to having a positive mental health and being in the healthy functioning section of the continuum. Below are just a few that relate directly to the other dimensions of health. It is why gaining the skills and knowledge to support and enhance our mental health is so important in today’s society.

Improved moods.

Clearer thinking.

A greater sense of calm or inner peace.

Increased self-esteem.

Improvements in relationships.

Sharper memory.

Better sleep.

Increased energy.

Stronger resilience.

a selection of the benefits of having positive mental health

Understanding mental health.

There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to the term “mental health”. When we hear and see this term, many in society start to associate it with “suffering” (which is not a good term to use around mental health anyway) or with illness. With a term that we use every day, we need to develop an understanding around what it actually means.

Why is developing this understanding so important? 

Just like with our physical health, there are times we will have mental ill-health (which is a term that encompasses both mental illness – a diagnosed disorder AND mental health problems – those that may not meet the criteria for an official diagnosis). This is the aspect of mental health that as a society, we tend to associate with whenever we discuss this topic.

This is also not something that is isolated to one section of the world.

Globally, it is estimated that just over 1 in 10 people live with a mental illness. 

(Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020) – “Mental Health”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health’ [Online Resource])

If you’re interested to see the data around the global prevalence of mental health head to this webpage: https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health

The more that we, as individuals, develop our understanding around the concept of what mental health actually is, the more we are able to support ourselves and others in enhancing it. On top of this, we can educate others and start to remove the stigma that hovers around mental health problems and mental illnesses. 

So let’s get to it! What actually is mental health?

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is: 

“a state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.”

As with many definitions of health this one also looks at the positives around our mental health, not what is going wrong. It is about the way we think, feel and develop relationships – not just about developing an illness. Just because an individual doesn’t have a mental-illness, does not mean they are doing “well” mentally. On the flip side, you could also have a diagnosed mental illness and be functioning well in many aspects of your life.

When we look at our mental health, we can use a continuum like the one below.

The further into the green zone (our positive and healthy functioning zone), the “healthier” we are, and the longer we stay in the red zone, we increase our risk of developing a mental illness.

We are, however, constantly moving along the continuum. Our mental health is ever changing (dynamic), as well as dependent on what is happening in our lives at a particular point in time (relative). We are never going to be able to stay in the green zone all of the time, that in itself would be draining (and quite unrealistic). Also, being in the green zone, doesn’t mean that we are always happy and positive, it means that we are able to be functioning and dealing with aspects in an appropriate and healthy way. There are many factors that impact how we are coping throughout our days/weeks/years and influence where we sit on the continuum. These factors that can include; an argument with a friend or family member, the loss of a job, getting sick, and grief.

What we need to be able to do when something impacts our mental health, is move ourselves back towards the green zone, to have that positive and healthy functioning aspect return. Individuals who are more resilient, and have a higher self-esteem and self-worth find it easier to get back into the green. They are more readily able to “bounce back” and self manage coping strategies to help deal with the issues that life can throw at us. 

But all is not lost. There are many different strategies that can help develop our resiliency and build upon our self-esteem. Finding those strategies that best suit us as an individual is one step towards enhancing our own mental health.

In future blog posts, we will look at many different strategies and practices that can be put into place to not only support our mental health, but enhance our growth in this area.

Introducing You Matter Too

You Matter Too is an online space that has been developed to help enhance mental health and build resilience. There are many spaces that focus on what society know as mental health issues or illnesses (depression, anxiety, personality disorders etc) but I wanted to create a place where people could develop their knowledge and understanding around a holistic view of mental health, that it is something we can work on like we would do our physical health.

Each month there will be an update focusing on enhancing our mental health and building resilience. It will look at an educative, strength-based approach to this and will cover areas such as:

  • understanding mental health
  • gratitude
  • mindfulness
  • belonging
  • meaning & purpose
  • support networks
  • impact of social media

You Matter Too also has an Instagram account that will supplement the information within this blog and provide snippets around benefits and daily practices to help in enhancing our mental health.

https://www.instagram.com/u_mattertoo/