Don’t neglect your mental health

Although most people seem quite
comfortable talking about their physical health, emotional well-being, or
mental health, is an important aspect of our lives that still stays under

It seems strange that, when so many
subjects are open for discussion among ourselves, we seem reluctant or
embarrassed to talk about our mental health. For some people, to admit to
feeling down or anxious is still seen as a sign of weakness. Yet an ache, pain,
operation or physical illness can be freely discussed.

Psychological and psychiatric
conditions can have just as much of an impact on our lives as a physical
illness, so why do we feel embarrassed or worried about what other people may
think? Imagine if your spouse, friend, or someone in your family had a mental
health problem. How would you react? It’s easy to offer support to someone who
has a physical health problem or is dealing with an issue such as grief that we
can all relate to, but what about someone who feels depressed, extremely
anxious, hears voices, has severe mood swings, or thoughts about killing
themselves? What do you say?

The mind-body link

Our mind is intractably linked with
our physical body. It’s part of us, of who we are, and it accounts for those
unseen structures of our personality and the very essence that makes us an
individual. We think, feel, and react to situations first with our minds, then
with our physical bodies, often in quick response. Think about the big
adrenaline surge you experience when a car suddenly pulls out in front of you.
Before you physically react, your senses have interpreted the information and
have sent a message to the body, telling it to react-hopefully taking evasive

Thankfully, society is slowly
moving to a more comprehensive concept of health, where each person is not made
up of two separate entities of mind and body, but where more inclusive words
such as ‘wellness’ and ‘holistic’ are used more and more.

Stress is now established as a
contributing factor toward serious physical conditions, such as high blood
pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, headaches, high cholesterol, and some
cancers. Therefore, our ability to cope with stress (also a factor that makes
mental health problems worse), is an essential part of our lives to address,
just as vital as other important aspects such as diet and exercise.

Improving your mental health

Although there are lots of
strategies we can access to improve our mental health (including counselling!),
sometimes self-care and self-help aren’t enough and we may need medication,
short or long-term. In the case of physical conditions such as arthritic pain,
diabetes, or high cholesterol, many people need medication to maintain their
health despite any positive lifestyle changes they may make. However,
medication to maintain or improve our mental health still carries a stigma and
is often not something we are so ready to admit to needing. Like physical
illness, mental illness cuts across all aspects of society, irrespective of
age, race, religion, or income, and is not the result of personal weakness,
lack of character, intelligence, or poor upbringing.

Mental illness is not catching,
shameful or a weakness, and 25 per cent of all people at some point in their
lives will have a mental health problem (World Health Organisation 2001).

Consider for a moment your attitude
toward your own mental health. Is it positive, or are you dismissive and
believe that it will take care of itself? Take a few moments to revaluate your
attitude. After all, your mental health is part of you, so look after it.

Points to consider:

Know your own personal signs of
stress or of feeling overwhelmed.

Make a list of activities or
measures that help limit that stress.

Write your plan down-you’re
much more likely to keep to it!

Get support from those you
trust and are a positive influence in your life.

Consider counselling-at the
EAP. We can discuss these issues with you and help you to create your
individual plan.

To schedule a confidential appointment,
contact the Employee Assistance Programme on 949-9559.

Emma Roberts, BSc, PG Dip. CBT, RMHC, is a counsellor with EAP.

Feature Story

Safeguarding your mental health by speaking to a doctor or counsellor can help improve your condition and the fight stigma of non-physical conditions.
Photo: File

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