What does mental health mean to me?

Mental health has been described as ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being’[1]. For me, mental health is two-fold. It is the psychological obstacles or identified disorders experienced by an estimated one in four[2] individuals that may require psychiatric intervention or psychological therapies. On the opposite end of the spectrum, mental health encompasses wellbeing, mindfulness and an overall satisfaction with the areas of life that are important to an individual.

Having studied psychology for a number of years and undertaken a placement on an acute psychiatric ward, I have witnessed a range of psychological disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, and psychotic depression. Typically, when considering mental health, it is severe disorders such as these that spring to mind.  However, mental health affects all of us. Mental health is how we feel about ourselves and others, our ability to cope with the challenges faced by life, and the capacity to develop psychologically and emotionally. Given that mental health is experienced by all of us, surely it should be a topic that we talk about more openly, more comfortably?

An area of research that I am currently interested in is positive psychology, founded by Martin Seligman. Positive psychology, founded in the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, is a field that examines healthy states such as happiness, strength of character and optimism. Essentially positive psychology aims to understand the seemingly simple question, ‘what makes happy people happy?’

There are many practical, and straightforward ways to practice positive psychology to help alleviate stress and induce feelings of positivity: 

  1. Express gratitude - everyone appreciates recognition and acts of kindness.  A simple ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ doesn’t cost a thing- just ensure it is genuine!
  2. Stay connected - we are social beings and investment in others is one of the key components of happiness. Give people your time, listen effectively and accept individual differences and diversity
  3. Work on your ‘growth mindset’ - a growth mindset accepts both positive and negative feelings, embraces challenges and considers setbacks as opportunities to learn. Find out how to develop a growth mindset here: https://www.headspace.com/blog/2017/10/30/whats-growth-mindset/

Mental health is a vast subject that touches all of us in some shape or form.  Whilst reaching a parity of esteem may be a more extensive process, we should be encouraged to speak about mental health more freely to help erase the stigma attached to it.  When thinking about mental health let’s shed the stereotype associated with this topic.  Let’s invest time in maintaining our wellbeing, reflecting on events and behaviours and recognising the people or activities that endow us with a sense of purpose.

To understand more about some of the areas I have touched upon please get in touch, visit https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk or check out Martin Seligman’s TED talk on positive psychology https://www.ted.com/speakers/martin_seligman

[1]Oxford Dictionary 2018 Oxford University Press

[2] www.mind.org.uk

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Kiran Birring Senior Consultant