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What is Mental Health?

In the northern hemisphere, January means cold, short days and with the celebrations of Christmas and New Year packed away and a global pandemic still lingering, it felt right to make Mental Health the theme inside the Peace Project this month.

But what is Mental Health exactly?

The World Health Organization describes it as:

"a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community".

The Centres For Disease Control and Prevention describes it as:

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.

Mental health could therefore be described as our mental wellness, with a spectrum from loss of all ability think straight, prioritise, process, contextualise and emotionally regulate through to high mental acuity, feeling sharp, switched on, resilient, connected, raring to go and ready for adventure. Most people sit somewhere within that spectrum, and will within their lifetime, move up or down depending on the pressures they are currently under, historically have been under or are likely to be under. For example, the following issues could potentially result in a period of poor mental health:

  • Lack of sleep

  • Poor nutrition

  • Alcohol and drug use

  • Isolation

  • Fatigue from excessive demands (e.g. childcare, work pressure, caring for elderly relatives)

  • Social disadvantage (e.g. poverty, lack of access to resources, chronic debt, homelessness)

  • Discrimination and exclusion (e.g. ageism, sexism, racism)

  • Emotional trauma (e.g. abuse, bullying, emotional neglect)

  • Physical trauma (e.g. head injury, illness, car accident)

  • Physical illness (e.g. hormone imbalance, gut disbyosis, liver disease)

  • Bereavement and loss

  • Domestic violence (physical and emotional)

  • Political instability

  • Financial uncertainty

  • Rejection (e.g. romantic, job)

  • A life threatening event (terminal illness, active military service)

  • Environmental concerns

  • Conflict (war, divorce, neighbour disputes).

It's not hard to see with the challenges of life, that there is plenty in that list that can understandably impact a person's mental health. Even more so with the current pandemic, with the added pressures of uncertainty, opposing perspectives and a potentially fatal illness.

Mental Health versus Mental Illness

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, mental health and mental illness are not the same. Mental illness refers to significant changes in thinking, emotion and/or behaviour, whereas mental health refers to the mental ability to cope with life. A person with a mental illness (e.g. schizophrenia, chronic depression, biopolar disorder) can have periods of good mental health, whilst a person with no mental illness can go through a period of poor mental health (sadness, grief, overwhelm, dispondency).

Learning about mental health helps us to be more aware of the triggers and reasons why we might experience mental health issues. This allows us to prioritise our mental wellbeing and choose to include mental health practices in our daily schedules. It also helps us to realise when we might need to access more support, addressing an issue before it becomes a bigger problem, such as forming stronger bonds with friends whilst going through a divorce or spending more time in nature when work pressures are high.

In future blogs I will be exploring useful mental health strategies and some of my favourite ways to remain mentally well!

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