What is ‘Mental Health’

It occurs to me that I’ve been talking a lot about kindness recently, and perhaps not started at the beginning.

I recently had a conversation with someone which went like this:

Me – “How are things?

The other person – “Good thanks, we’re all doing fine. Except for my sister in law. She’s got Mental Health.”

Me – “well……”

Mental health is still, in the 21st century, not very well understood. So here’s a post about how we could understand it better. Let’s start with some basics:

  1. We all have mental health. In the same way, we all have a state of physical health.
  2. Sometimes our health is better and sometimes our health is not so great. Sometimes it’s pretty bad. This is true for all of us.
  3. We’d probably all understand it a bit more if we called it ‘emotional health’ or ‘state of well-being’.
  4. How we’re doing or how well we are feeling depends on lots of things – it’s not just about chemicals in our brains, it’s about what’s going on around us and what support we  have and what life was like for us growing up and lots of other things – I’m going to post separately on this as it’s a whole conversation in itself.
  5. Mental health or more accurately ‘mental health problems’ don’t just affect some people. At times we all have problems with our emotional health or well-being. At other times we’re doing ok.
  6. It’s not really a simple as ‘ill’ or ‘well’ although it can sometimes be helpful to use these terms. However, I think a good way to think about mental health is more like a continuum. Some days we’re up the top end. Sometimes things feel really hard and we might be at the other end. Mostly we’re somewhere in between.

       Feeling great_____________________OK___________________Feeling terrible

Often, because Mental health is so misunderstood and therefore stigmatised, we don’t share how we’re feeling – especially if we’re on the bottom half of this spectrum.  Sometimes we pretend we’re fine when really we’re not. This is a great article on this topic:

At Headspace Guildford we do quite a bit of training for companies and charities about Mental Health, because it’s only by talking about it and being clear about what Mental Health is and is not, that we can start to make it easier for people (children and adults) to say when things aren’t going so well for them. But what we can all do is realise that we’re all somewhere on this continuum, and that we move up and down it all the time (both over the course of a day and more broadly over the course of weeks and months and years and our lives).

Be kind to yourself and kind to others. It’s not a magic wand but a little bit of understanding and compassion goes a long long way.

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