It is timely that my first article for Hello Neighbours magazine coincides with the month of October, which is Mental Health Month in NSW, and World Mental Health Day falls on 10 October. This initiative aims to improve public awareness and interest in mental health and wellbeing, and I am very pleased to be able to contribute to this important, ongoing campaign on a community level through this magazine.
Why does mental health matter?
One answer to this question could be: “How could it not matter?” As humans we experience the world around us not only by means of our physical body, but also through our beliefs, perceptions, emotions, spirituality, social connectedness and more. If we are physically healthy, yet all the other components are ailing, our day-to-day experience of life will be a struggle.
Furthermore, research tells us that our physical health and mental health are not independent from one another; they have a complex, bi-directional relationship. The health of both the body and the mind are crucial for wellbeing.
Mental health vs mental illness
To define it simply, mental health is a state of wellbeing regarding the way we think, feel, and develop relationships. Good mental health means more than just the absence of symptoms. It means having the ability to manage life competently and to cope in a reasonably robust way with the challenges that inevitably come our way. It means being able to experience satisfaction and pleasure in everyday life, and to be productive.
Not unlike our physical health, our mental health will fluctuate at least marginally over time. Most Australians, at some stage, will experience temporary difficulties in one or more aspects of their mental health. We might refer to this as a mental health issue or problem, likely to have arisen as a result of a stressful situation such as a relationship breakdown or workplace difficulties.
A mental illness is when something goes substantially wrong with our mental health. Mental illness refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders, which are health conditions involving significant changes in our thoughts, emotions and/or behaviour. These changes cause overwhelming distress and impairment in daily life.
Statistics indicate that one in five Australians will develop a mental illness in their lifetime, with the most common diagnoses being anxiety disorders and depression. Mental illness causes suffering in many people and tragically, for some, it will take their life.
Improving mental health
Thanks to advances in medicine and psychology, and an increasing number of public awareness campaigns like Mental Health Month, there are many options available to help maximise wellbeing.
You can select the best option for you depending on your level of need and your preferences. Some of the options include online educational resources, apps to teach you wellbeing strategies, you local GP, online psychological treatment programs, Medicare-subsidised therapy sessions with a psychologist, medications prescribed by a GP or psychiatrist, group therapy programs, or emergency telephone services like Lifeline.
Emotional wellbeing is a broad topic with so many interesting components, most of which are applicable to all of us in some way or another. I look forward to sharing more aspects of this subject with you in practical and helpful ways.
An edited version of this article was published in Hello Neighbours magazine.