I don’t think most people know what mental health is.
The general consensus seems to be that ‘mental health’ is a thing that happens to other people when they have ‘a nervous breakdown’ or ‘lose their shit’.
Today, on the first working day of Queensland Mental Health Week, I’m setting you straight, I’m here to tell you that we all have mental health in the same way that we all have physical health.
We don’t have a fixed state of mental health, there is no undeviating divide between mental wellness and mental illness. Our mental health is on a continuum, we all move along the continuum.
Mental health refers to our state of mind and how we think, feel, behave and interact with the people around us – we move along the mental health continuum in response to stressors and experiences within our lives.
So how do I know if it’s a problem? If you are experiencing difficult feelings and behaviours, if your sleep is consistently poor, your appetite has changed, if you feel anxious, you can’t ‘switch off’ and your mind is constantly running, or if your behaviour has been unpredictable and out of character then maybe this is more than simply reacting. If you have marked changes in your mood and these symptoms and feelings have been impacting upon your ability to work or study, or is impacting on your relationships and has been lasting for more than two weeks then I urge you to chat with your GP or access your Employee Assistance Program.
And what is good mental health? Well it’s not a constant state of happiness, that’s unachievable. We may determine that our mental health is good when our responses fit the experiences, when our ability to think, plan and act is effective. We don’t live stress free lives, but with good mental health we can navigate the challenges and embrace experiences without significant consequence.
The beauty of understanding the mental health continuum is that with this insight it gives us an opportunity to prevent moving towards illness if we intercept early, engage with the support of professionals and our family, friends and co-workers and begin to journey back down the continuum towards healthy functioning.