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Understanding good mental health

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Your mental health influences how you think, feel, and behave in daily life. It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships.

Strong mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues.

Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.

People who are mentally healthy have

• A sense of contentment

• A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.

• The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.

• A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.

• The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change.

• A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.

• The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.

• Self-confidence and high self-esteem.

The relationship between resilience and mental health

Having solid mental health doesn’t mean that you never go through bad times or experience emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. But just as physically healthy people are better able to bounce back from illness or injury, people with strong mental health are better able to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience.

People who are emotionally and mentally resilient have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and productive, in bad times as well as good. Their resilience also makes them less afraid of new experiences or an uncertain future. Even when they don’t immediately know how a problem will get resolved, they are hopeful that a solution will eventually be found.

Whether you’re looking to cope with a specific mental health problem, handle your emotions better, or simply to feel more positive and energetic, there are plenty of ways to take control of your mental health—starting today.

How to boost your mental health

Anyone can suffer from mental or emotional health problems—and over a lifetime most of us will. Yet, despite how common mental health problems are, many of us make no effort to improve our situation.

We ignore the emotional messages that tell us something is wrong and try toughing it out by distracting ourselves or self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or self-destructive behaviours. We bottle up our problems in the hope that others won’t notice. We hope that our situation will eventually improve on its own.

The good news is: you don’t have to feel bad. There are practices you can adopt to elevate your mood, become more resilient, and enjoy life more. But just as it requires effort to build and maintain physical health, so it is with mental health. We have to work harder these days to ensure strong mental health, simply because there are so many ways that life takes a toll on our emotional well-being.

Why are we often reluctant or unable to address our mental health needs?

Our inability to address our mental health needs stems from a variety of reasons:

• In some societies, mental and emotional issues are seen as less legitimate than physical issues. They’re seen as a sign of weakness or somehow as being our own fault.

• Some people mistakenly see mental health problems as something we should know how to “snap out of.” Men, especially, would often rather bottle up their feelings than seek help.

• In the modern age, we’re obsessed with seeking simple answers to complex problems. We look for connection with others by compulsively checking social media instead of reaching out to people in the real world; to boost our mood and ease depression we take a pill, rather than address the underlying issues.

• Many people think that if they do seek help for mental and emotional problems, the only treatment options available are medication (which comes with unwanted side effects) or therapy (which can be lengthy and expensive). The truth is that, whatever your issues, there are steps you can take to improve the way you feel and experience greater mental and emotional well-being. And you can start today!

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