To steer through the journey of bettering the quality of life for yourself and those around you, here are seven tips to navigate mental health issues.
Often overlooked, the brain is the powerhouse of the body. Our mind influences the self, defines our capabilities, and creates our potential. This snowballs into the decisions we take, which further forms our reality. Therefore, mental health is pivotal on both a personal and global scale, which makes it necessary for us to proactively question and address how we think, feel and act. To steer through the journey of bettering the quality of life for yourself and those around you, here are seven tips to navigate through mental health:
1. Know what mental health is
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being. The lack of a visible disease or sickness does not necessarily equate to a person who is emotionally, psychologically, and socially well-off. Registered psychologist Dr. Kamaljit Sidhu, Ph.D., explains that mental health can be depicted on a continuum, where a person must meet certain criteria to be declared clinically ill; short periods of stresses are normal, but persisted symptoms should not be overlooked. Common examples of mental illnesses include major depression, anxiety and ADHD.
Mental health can also be looked upon as the strength of one’s relationship with the self through which you (a) recognize what makes you truly happy and (b) accept yourself wholeheartedly the way you are.
2. Understand the ‘why’
The way we think, feel and behave dictates our actions, involvement in the community and ability to deal with life’s stresses. Award-winning professional, Dr. Shimi Kang MD, FRCPC, puts into perspective that mental health conditions affect one in four people regardless of culture, education and background. Moreover, mental health is not a choice; it is a part of every individual, impacting not only the self, but others around us.
3. Talk about it
Undoubtedly, there has been increased community involvement and media coverage in the past few years, but there is still opportunity for growth. Family and friends should showcase empathy (understanding), not sympathy (feeling sorry for):
a. Proactively ask a loved one what is going on if changes in behaviour are noticed
b. Listen attentively and genuinely rather than brushing off or minimizing a point
c. Ask how you can help
Bottling up feelings and thoughts can act as obstacles towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Shreya Patel, documentary film maker and actress, shares, “I personally feel that sharing my story with my family was the best thing I did. I, for the first time, felt heard and cared for and realized that I wasn’t alone, which was highly comforting and really helped me recover.”
4. Evaluate your lifestyle
In today’s fast-paced world, we usually only pay attention to our bodies when problems arise. It is wiser to take preventative measures that help us live fulfilling lives by sleeping well, routinely exercising, building positive social connections, following passions, practicing regular self-care, and avoiding substance abuse.
Registered clinical social worker, Alex Sangha, adds that work also plays a role by providing routine and structure and boosts self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-identity.
Dr. Kang further outlines the challenge of technology in maintaining our mental health and creatively recommends that we view technology in similar light as we see food:
a. Healthy technology would be a support group on social media or video calling a loved one in another country to lift our spirits.
b. Junk technology encompasses video games and social media apps that are okay once in a while, but can be detrimental if not limited.
c. Toxic technology includes cyberbullying, pornography and social media comparisons that negatively impact the self and can create long-lasting problems.
5. Explore your options
After recognizing the potential existence of an issue, the key lies in doing something about it. Dr. Sidhu brings attention to the countless misconceptions surrounding treatment, with many people still believing Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and hospitalization to be the only way out. Educate yourself with what your alternatives are.
Patel recommends that doing an activity you adore or learning something new – be it yoga, meditation, or a forgotten passion – will always release good chemicals in your brain, which can help reverse mental illnesses in early stages; if it is spiraling down, professional help should be explored. Visiting the family doctor and letting them know your emotional behavioural and physical symptoms allows your physician to give recommendations.
High school and university students often have access to free counselling services that maintain anonymity in accordance with legal guidelines. Be it starting a journal to express yourself or trying medication to improve your health, there is a way out.
6. Get involved
Being action-oriented is not constrained to those suffering through a mental illness. Caroline Audet, senior manager of media relations at Bell Canada, exemplifies a way for the entire community to get involved through “Bell Let’s Talk,” an avenue through millions of people in Canada and around the world send messages of support and encouragement for those struggling with mental illness, share their own stories and offer ideas about how we can improve everyone’s mental health. Championing the awareness of mental health issues is a gateway to overcoming suffering.
7. Have hope
People do and can get better. As Sangha puts it, people with mental illness deserve love, respect and a chance in society. Many world famous and successful people have lived with mental illnesses and coped gracefully. All it takes is one small step – before reaching out to another person, an honest conversation with yourself.