Basics of Mental Health, details about the protective factors and risk factors of mental health. Differences between mental health vs mental disorders. Details of proven ways to improve your mental health
After the lockdowns across the world in 2020, you might have noticed a sudden surge in the discussion around “mental health”, you might have seen influencers talk about what they’ve gone through and how they coped with it, psychologists and mental health professionals have also spoken about it with more rigour than ever. So what do you mean by mental health and if it is that important, what must you do for its upkeep?
Mental health is a state of the mind characterized by emotional wellbeing, ability to cope with the regular demands and stresses of life, good behavioral adjustment, and being relatively free of extreme anxiety and disabling symptoms. It is integral to one’s health and wellbeing as it also determines one’s ability to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. It is an important part of an individual’s personal, community and socio- economic development.
Mental health entails more than the complete absence of mental disorders. It exists on a continuum that is experienced differently by each individual- everyone faces difficulties and distress on a daily basis but the experience and intensity of it varies from one person to the next. We come across multiple individual, social and structural factors in our lifetime; these factors may protect or endanger our mental health, shifting it on the continuum.
Factors that endanger our mental health are called “risk factors”- they are those characteristics, hazards or variables that, if present for a person, will make it more likely that this person will develop a disorder, rather than someone chosen at random from a general population. These variables may be a risk factor at one stage of an individual’s development but may not pose the same risk at a later stage. They can be biological, social, and psychological; they can be from one’s family, community, or even from within the individual, themselves.
Some situations such as
On the other hand, we have “protective factors”. These are variables and situations in one’s life that serve to strengthen and increase their resilience. Risk factors and protective factors feature simultaneously in people’s lives, which is why not everyone with risk factors develops a mental disorder. Despite the damage that can be caused by risk factors, some individuals come up unharmed and achieve optimal emotional, psychological and social functioning. This is due to the resilience built by the protective factors in their lives. They also exist within individuals, their families and communities.
Commonly found protective factors include
Having poor mental health is often misunderstood as having a mental disorder. A “Mental disorder” is also called psychological disorder, mental illness or psychiatric disorder. It is a set of symptoms that affect and disturb one’s emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning. These disorders often accompany distress and dysfunction in the affected individual’s personal life, education, occupation and familial relationships.
However, as mentioned earlier, mental health encompasses multiple domains of an individual’s functioning on a day- to- day basis. Life satisfaction, resilience, support from family and community, and flexibility in one’s expectations from life can be areas of your life that can help you stay healthy and take care of your mental health.
The lack or absence of distress in your life doesn’t ensure an optimal mental health. You must actively take action on a regular basis to ensure that your mental wellbeing is preserved. Studies show that higher psychological wellbeing has a direct connection to better social adjustment, higher life satisfaction, and lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse. Positive psychological wellbeing has been correlated to higher earnings and more prosocial behavior.
People who regularly express gratitude for the things in their lives are shown to be much happier. Gratitude is the act of feeling thankful for all the things that one has in their life. Researchers have seen that a regular practice of gratitude has a lasting effect on the brain and its chemistry. Being grateful can help you regulate your emotions, increase feelings of positivity and boost your mood.
Besides the physiological benefit of being active, physical exercise improves one’s mental health drastically. It is found to alleviate low self- esteem, reduce anxiety, depression and any negative mood, and increase cognitive functioning. It increases blood circulation in the brain and has an influence on how your body physiologically reacts to stress, thus helping in improving your mood.
Sufficient sleep helps the brain to process emotional information better. Lack of adequate sleep is shown to be especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content. Getting a good amount of sleep will help you stay focused through your day, enable better thinking and memory.
Community activities help you stay connected with people, giving you the necessary support when needed. Building good relationships is important, as it creates a sense of belongingness and self- worth. Participating in activities with other people would give you an opportunity to connect with like- minded people, share positive experiences and seek help when required.
While it may appear that substances like alcohol, caffeine, cannabis and others are making you feel better and “lifting your spirits”, using them to cope with your feelings will only provide you short term comfort. However, they will make you feel worse in the long run. These drugs have the ability to increase feelings of anxiety and paranoia, and their prolonged use is often linked with schizophrenia, depression, memory problems, hallucinations and mania.
If you feel like you are not able to cope with the stresses of life, seek professional help. Just like you would approach a doctor for your physiological concerns, you can consult a mental health professional whenever you feel the need for it. It is important to seek advice and help from those who are specialists at helping those in need. You must remember that you are not alone and there is someone out there who can provide the support and help that you are looking for.
Understanding mental health and its components will not only help you know more, but it will also make you more aware about yourself as well as others. Knowing about risk factors and protective factors will help you keep an eye out for those who are in need and will provide you additional knowledge on how you can support them better.
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