Mental health, like our physical, emotional and spiritual health, is essential to our well-being. Our mental health involves how we feel, think, act, cope with adversities, make decisions and engage with the people and world around us.
Poor mental health can lead to mental illness such as depression, anxiety (other mood disorders), and numerous other diagnosis. Mental illness can be caused and/or influenced by many factors such as genetics/heredity, social conditions such as poverty and social isolation, traumatic experiences, stress overload, substance abuse, and more. Usually there is no single factor that causes the onset of a mental illness for an individual but rather a combination of pre-disposing and contributing factors.
There are many things we can do to foster our overall mental health and wellness. Here are 5 tips for improving mental health individually and collectively:
1. Manage and/or reduce stress levels
Stress can negatively impact our mental health. According to Health Canada research, in 2014, 23% of Canadians aged 15 and older (6.7 million people) reported that most days were “quite a bit” or “extremely stressful”. Those with high levels of daily stress also reported a lower rate of life satisfaction. Also, according to Statistics Canada, employees who considered most of their days to be quite a bit or extremely stressful were over 3 times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode, compared with those who reported low levels of general stress.
Stress management is a critical part of our overall mental health. Take inventory of the stressors in your life and proactively address stress so that it does not erode your overall health. Stress carries several negative health consequences such as a higher risk for mental illness, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, as well as reduced immune functioning. Stress levels can be reduced through regular rest and replenishment, healthy eating, exercise, expressing your feelings through journaling, seeking support, and mindfulness stress reduction practices such as meditation. Coping with stress is a key part of our mental health and it also helps us to reach out full potential.
2. Get regular exercise
Exercise is a proven way to improve many aspects of our health and wellness. Research suggests that regular moderate levels of cardiovascular exercise can, for example, alleviate mild depression and anxiety symptoms. Exercise also releases endorphins into our system and can literally help us feel good.
3. Cultivate a sense of belonging
Having a place to belong, where you feel cared for and valued – in a family, in a peer group, in the workplace and beyond – is a known protective factor when it comes to our mental health. People (and groups of people) who are marginalized, stigmatized, isolated and/or lonely can be more vulnerable to mental health challenges. Reach out, cultivate healthy connections, and find ways to increase a sense of belonging for yourself and with/for others. We are healthier together than apart.
Furthermore, “recovery from mental health problems is improved through social networks and community connections. The extent to which people with common mental health conditions report a strong sense of belonging to their local communities reflects one component of support for recovery.”
4. Seek help and support others to do the same
If you feel you are suffering from a mental health issue, it is important to reach out and get help from a trained professional – your physician, a counsellor and/or a mental health professional. Suffering in silence can make matters worse. Mental health crisis can be serious and in some instances can lead to greater risk for suicide and other tragedies. Reach out for help if you need it. Reciprocally, reach out to those who you see might be in need of support and help them get the skilled support/mental healthcare that they need.
It is important to note, that according the World Health Organization, “there is a substantial gap between the burden caused by mental disorders and the resources available to prevent and treat them. It is estimated that four out of five people with serious mental disorders living in low and middle income countries do not receive mental health services that they need.”
Advocating for improved mental health services is a way to make a difference!
5. Educate yourself
When it comes to increased population mental health and wellness, awareness is prevention. Is there a workshop or seminar you can take on mental health awareness, on suicide prevention or another relevant topic? A book you can read? A conversation you can have with someone knowledgeable about this? The more we know about how to take care of our mental health, recognize the risks and symptoms of poor health, as well as become more aware of the resources for support that exist, the more proactive and responsive we can be in regards to mental health – our own and others too.
6. Offer compassion & understanding
Unlike physical health issues and other types of diseases, mental health challenges often result in high levels of stigma and shame for people who are suffering. The general population often does not understand about mental health or mental illness which can further isolate the person who is dealing with such. Anyone can suffer from a mental health issue and it is important for us to take care of this aspect of our health, while also ensuring we bring a non-judgmental, compassionate, understanding and kind approach towards anyone who is dealing with mental health challenges.
Our mental health matters! Consider how you can acknowledge mental health in your workplace, community and/or family, or for yourself, with the intention of creating a ripple effect of raised awareness, support and well-being for all.
 Perceived life stress, 2014 – http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14188-eng.htm
 Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2015). Informing the Future: Mental Health Indicators for Canada, Ottawa, ON: Author.
 World Health Organization, Mental Health Atlas 2011. Geneva: WHO, 2011.