I believe that a person is well placed to manage their own mental health if at all possible. It’s true that we inherit some mental problems; and it’s also true that life experiences can affect our mental health. But even if that is the case, an individual person is in a good position to make a new start from now.
Here are ten positive steps that any individual can take, in order to begin to attend to their own personal mental welfare.
STEP ONE – KNOW YOUR PSYCHOLOGY
A knowledge of how the mind works is helpful for any quest to get happier. It prevents you from making basic errors in handling yourself, and it also give you clues as to what might work best in terms of self-improvement. There is a lot of information freely available on the internet: in particular, happiness and wellbeing have been the subject of much recent research. You may as well know what is likely to make you happier; and if scientists have bothered to research the subject, then why not find out.
STEP TWO – USE COUNSELLING/THERAPY IF IT HELPS
There is a whole profession that has risen up with the intention of helping individuals through mental distress, and towards happiness. Good counsellors have spent hundreds of hours working with others on their mental health. Find a good match – if a therapeutic relationship doesn’t feel right for you, then it may not be. But if you have car problems, you go to a car mechanic; if you have body problems, you may go to a doctor or physiotherapist… likewise, if you want to solve issues to do with your mind, try a psychotherapeutic relationship.
STEP THREE – BE AWARE OF ANXIETY
Anxiety is internal conflict. It is one of the most common causes of mental distress in yourself and others. Denying anxiety is not very helpful, unless you are a soldier in a war zone. It is better to understand, and be able to handle, your own and others’ anxieties. Otherwise, you and others will tend to project your problems onto each other: you will blame each other, fuss and fight each other, not realising that the escalation is caused, in part, by a lack of self-awareness.
STEP FOUR – BE AWARE OF DEPRESSION
Depression is a sense of dull and exhausted hopelessness. It can be caused by many factors, including genetics, physical illness, loss, continuous exposure to hostile environments, and even boredom. It helps to be aware of the existence of depression – it is important to know how debilitating it can be to oneself or others. This stops us becoming unnsympathetic to those who suffer from it. It also prepares us for our own depression, if it comes. We are better protected if we are not surprised by it, and if we know what helps.
STEP FIVE – MANAGE YOUR OWN WELLBEING
A gardener takes care of their plants. They try to give them a balance of nutrients, a good support structure, and an environment in which they can thrive. In the same way, you have been given a body and mind to care for. You have choices every day as to what you eat, how you live, and who you have around you. Mental health can suffer if you do not manage your own balance of nutrition, lifestyle, and environment.
STEP SIX – MEDITATE
STEP SEVEN – BE MINDFUL
When a human being is in the middle of anger, anxiety or panic, they find it very hard to step back. The situation leads the person, and the person therefore feels out of control. Mindfulness is the art of self-detachment and self-control. It is an incredibly useful skill when it comes to mental health. Mindfulness is to the mind what dance is to the body. It harnesses energy, instead of letting it be wasted. Once it becomes second nature, it starts to moderate all our actions, which become more elegant and less clumsy.
STEP EIGHT – STAY ACTIVE
When you wake in the morning, you have a choice – to stay in bed, or live a day. A common symptom of anxiety and depression is a fear of facing the day. We can become less active. This can be self-destructive. Lack of activity can bring loneliness, isolation, mental stagnation, self-obsession and a lack of proportion. Conversely, when we are active, we are more likely to encounter others, to remain alert, to look outwards, and to moderate our narrow, selfish perspectives.
STEP NINE – STAY PHYSICALLY HEALTHY
The mind and body are linked. Our bodies have systematic cycles of nutrients, hormones, enzymes and other chemicals that work together to support our ability to sense the world, to perceive what is going on, and to build coherent understandings from our experience. If we damage those internal systems, then we can end up damaging our mental health. An example is the effect of sleep deprivation on the mind. Another is the effect of drug addiction on behaviour. If you want mental health, take your physical health seriously.
STEP TEN – EMPOWER YOURSELF PERSONALLY AND SOCIALLY
Finally, try to live a life in which you take care of your own self-development. Personally, try to lead a wise and balanced life, in which you cultivate whatever you consider to be virtues, and whatever you consider to be core skills for life. Take an interest in philosophy and language – choose thoughts and words which help. Socially, try to learn the art of relationship, and perhaps learn to escape your own selfish world; use these skills to negotiate with others, and participate effectively in the wider world.