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what is mental health?

What to know and where to find help

What is Mental Health?

Mental Health

We’re all talking about it but, for the record, what exactly ARE we talking about?

Mental Health is about the nebulous workings of the mind. It is similar to physical health, in that when you’re in good health, you should have no hindrances to what you want to achieve, and if you’re in bad health, you cannot operate as you’d wish. Good mental health will allow you to operate not necessarily with winning happiness all the time – much as good physical health allows you to move without pain, if not perhaps run 100m in under 10s – but within the realms of your life you can cope with what’s presented, feel like you have an impact and can communicate with the people around you. It is a feeling of well-being.

‘Bad’ mental health, or rather, mental health problems, can disrupt this and prevent meaningful relationships, an ability to communicate and a sense of being able to cope with your life.

Now the difficulty with mental health problems is that everyone is affected differently by life events – it’s not like a broken leg, where a similar medical treatment can be implemented to sort it out.  The way we react to life is dependent on so many factors, including genetics, childhood traumas, education, peer pressure, economic situation, and everything that makes up our behaviours and inclinations as individuals. Some setbacks will devastate one person, but be easy to cope with for others. Everyone is different so their mental health make-up will be different.

Furthermore, a person’s mental health is not a constant, it constantly evolves according to age and experience – lows and highs are the reality of life. However, for increasing amounts of people, mental health problems can be serious enough to be damaging to a person’s well-being, and even be life-threatening.

The Mental Health Foundation divides mental health conditions into two categories:

  1. “Neurotic symptoms. ‘Neurotic’ covers those symptoms which can be regarded as severe forms of ‘normal’ emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety or panic. Conditions formerly referred to as ‘neuroses’ are now more frequently called ‘common mental health problems.’”
  2. “‘Psychotic’ symptoms, which interfere with a person’s perception of reality, and may include hallucinations such as seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that no one else can. Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor.”

It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK have experienced conditions in these categories, most commonly anxiety or depression.

Traditionally such problems have been stigmatised either as simply being ‘crazy’ or having ‘a breakdown’, or for many of the ‘common’ mental health problems, that you are somehow weak, or sensitive and can’t handle life properly. Such ideas have particular effect on men, where the subsequent desire to hide mental health problems so as not to appear less masculine – a factor which the charity CALM have attributed to the 75% of suicides being male.

The overriding factor with all this is that everyone will have problems with their mental health at some point, just as they will with their physical health, but we as a society, need to catch up with providing better help for people when they are struggling. To not shame them, tell them to ‘man up’ or ‘pull yourself together’, but listen, empathise, support, and be nice.

Given the multifarious nature of mental health, it is hard to recommend one source for any person’s particular problems, but there are now many organisations there to help. Including:

CALM – suicide prevention charity offering a helpline and advice.

Shout – a crisis help text line. Text Shout to 85258 if you are experiencing a personal crisis

Rethink Mental Illness – advice and information from this organisation which is helping to change mental health perceptions and laws.

Samaritans – available to help 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Movember – men’s health charity now specialising in engaging men with mental health issues.

Mind – offering an information line and legal advice for sufferers.

Time To Change – a campaign to change the way people think about mental health problems

Young Minds – mental health support for young people.

Andy’s Man Club – mental health groups operating around the country, free to all men on Monday nights to talk about any issue bothering them.

NHS – your GP should be used for any mental health condition, not just for those that may require medication. A good relationship here is important.

Importantly, it is also about being there for each other. Being able to reach out to family, friends and colleagues – as well as professionals – is vital for a person’s mental well-being. And because everyone is affected at some time or other, it by extension means a more open, kinder society of mutual support. Reaching out when you need help yourself, but also reaching out to a person who you think is in trouble. And then staying there to maintain that connection.

Only together can we remove the stigmas around mental health and support more people. And only together can we build enough pressure to make sure employers and governments implement policies to make sure there is proper care and treatment available to everyone, no matter what walk of life they’re from. The good news is, the word is out on mental health, and change IS happening…

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