This is the first in a series of articles about mental health. Starting with an introduction to what mental health is and the impact that our mental health can have on us. Next, we’ll look at some of the current mental health statistics; the increasing trend of people being diagnosed with mental health conditions and the mental health services available for children. Later, we’ll look into some of the factors which can affect our mental health and some of the ways we can improve our resilience, helping to protect ourselves against the impact of deteriorating mental health.

What is Mental Health?

Our mental health encompasses how we :

  • feel, think and behave
  • cope with the ups and downs of life
  • feel about ourselves and our life
  • see ourselves and our future
  • are affected by stress

Everyone has it and just like our physical health, we need to actively look after it.

When we are mentally healthy, we are able to :

  • initiate, develop and sustain positive personal relationships
  • be aware of others and empathise with them
  • develop a sense of right and wrong
  • learn and respond positively to life’s challenges

If we’re struggling with our mental health, we might :

  • find that the way we're thinking, feeling or acting becomes difficult to cope with
  • not enjoy things we used to like doing
  • feel sad, or angry, for a longer time than usual
  • feel like we can’t control how we feel or behave

It’s normal and perfectly fine to not feel ok sometimes.

No-one is immune from mental health struggles and we shouldn’t expect to be happy all of the time, but by looking after our mental health and developing good coping strategies for ourselves, we can help to ride the inevitable ups and downs of life.

Mental Health Continuum

Mental health isn’t a binary state. It’s not on or off, good or bad, but constantly shifting through a range of wellbeing states.

Someone can be diagnosed as having a mental health condition, but due to the support that they have and the coping strategies that they have developed, may have better mental health than someone who has not yet received a diagnosis.

One helpful model from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, describes four extremes on this continuum, including those who :

  • Have been diagnosed with a mental health condition and who are struggling with their mental health
  • Have been diagnosed with a mental health, but who are not struggling with their mental health
  • Have not been diagnosed with a mental health condition, but who are struggling with their mental health
  • Have not been diagnosed with a mental health condition and who are not struggling with their mental health

At different times, any individual can be transitioning back and forth, between these different states.

Mental Health Stigma and Early Interventions

Although public awareness of mental health conditions has improved, there are still many stereotypes and prejudices, associated with those who struggle with their mental health and this can lead to both discrimination and a reluctance to seek help. A belief that others will think that you’re ‘crazy’ or that you should ‘try harder’ and ‘just get over it’ can lead to feelings of shame and further isolation.

This is particularly important, because early diagnosis and treatment of mental illness is so critical for improving outcomes. Delaying interventions increases the risk of more serious symptoms and the development of further mental illnesses. Conversely, gaining early support can help to minimise the impact of symptoms, as well as increasing opportunities for the individual to make a complete recovery.