Understanding Mental Health
One in four of us will experience a problem with our mental health at some stage in our lives. This means that its highly unlikely any of us will make it through life without having a problem or being close to someone who does.
Why do we have problems with our mental health? There are lots of reasons and factors that contribute to mental health problems. These can include past experiences, genetics, surroundings and the way we live our lives. Trauma can also affect our mental health and sometimes things that happen to us can have a lasting effect and continue to impact on our health and well-being for a long time. Too much stress can also leave us open to developing a problem. Having a mental health problem doesn't have to be a long-term thing. The right help and support can help recovery. Most people will get well again and it is important not to lose hope and to try and keep a positive attitude.
"Mental health influences how we think and feel, about ourselves and others and how we interpret events. It affects our capacity to learn, to communicate and to form, sustain and end relationships. It also influences our ability to cope with change, transition and life events: having a baby, experiencing bereavement, going to prison." (Friedli 2004)
What's the difference between 'mental health' and 'mental illness'? Mental health means our ability to enjoy life and cope with its challenges. In a nutshell, are we able to get on and do the things we want to do? It's not a by-word for 'mental illness'. A mental illness is a problem that affects mental health (just like a broken leg affects physical health)
How do we protect ourselves from mental health problems?
Updated September 2010
Maintaining social networks
Social contact is essential to support us in times of stress and to help us relax, have fun and share our thoughts, feelings and experiences with others. This may take a variety of forms and help us have insights and understanding into others and our own behaviour, emotions and live more meaningful lives.
Exercise is proven to have many benefits to mental well being. Activities like walking can increase social contacts which in turn increase our support networks. Getting out in the open and doing activities like gardening is good for the mind and body. Exercise releases feel good chemicals (serotonin), which is involved in the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, muscle contraction, and some cognitive functions including memory and learning. The most prescribed mental health drugs in many parts of the world work by influencing serotonin levels. They are used in depression, generalized anxiety disorder and social phobia.
There is a strong relationship between our thoughts and our feelings, and this then affects our mood. We can learn ways to identify negative thinking styles that effect our mental health. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a useful resource and skill that can be learned to help you help yourself. This is available in self-help books, but also as a one to one talking therapy.
Healthy eating is also important and means a balanced diet and has an essential relationship to good mental health. We can avoid certain foods that are processed and contain fats that are bad for brain health and consume good fats like omega 3s. Moderating caffeine and sugar is also helpful in regulating mood, the brain needs a slow and steady supply of glucose to maintain stable moods. Alcohol is a depressant and if we drink it to relieve depression we will become more depressed. Alcohol also inhibits the absorption of many of the nutrients vital to brain health. A regular intake of water is essential for hydration.
Better understanding of mental health problems
Most of us are familiar with the term 'mental health problems', but actually understanding what they are can be a different matter.
Click on the links below to view leaflets produced by NHS Scotland on a variety of mental health issues: