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MAKING IT BETTER: Prioritising Your Mental Health in 2019

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Tuesday, January 15th, 2019
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I am focussing on mental health in a direct way at this time for a few reasons. As we enter into the New year and a more manic period with the impending presidential elections, there are already signs that it will not be without some casualties, which will cover a wide spectrum. In addition to that there are already ongoing emotional and psychological issues that are similarly being manifest in a variety of bizarre and other worldly behaviour of many members of our society. So I feel the need to keep this focus up. If you read this column, a lot of the content in this article you will recognise as I have written about much of it in various guises and will continue to. We need to make mental health one of our key priorities, individually and collectively.

I think because of the cultural stigma around mental health and the almost irrational fear people have about it we fail to understand that healthy mental health goes hand in head with a healthy physical state.

For countries where the issue of mental health is ignored or it is explained through irrational ideas and mythical concepts, there is a greater danger for the citizens. The continent of Africa in general is guilty of that and Nigeria in particular is a country that practices this ignorance at its peril.

One of my favourite expressions is that you don’t have to be MAD to have mental health problems. In other words mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders and disabilities. It is an absolute integral part of our health and you generally cannot have any stable form of health without mental health. This is because mental health impacts both favourably or detrimentally on our physical health. This is ultimately determined by potential socioeconomic, biological and environmental factors.

In my line of work as a Mental Health practitioner, I have had the privilege and pain of observing people experiencing the absolute break down of their mental health and in many cases the reinstating, healing, and repairing of it. I have also observed loved ones battle with the stability of their mental health. On a more personal level I have learnt over the years the triggers that threaten my own mental health and I am fiercely protective at safeguarding those areas.

What I have found out about the power and strength of mental health well being, which is one of the most significant reasons that drives me and keeps me determined to continue in this work; is the impact mental health has on people’s quality of life. Sadly in our part of the world, mental health is still undervalued, overlooked, ignored and worse still attributed to the mythical, ‘spiritual or dark forces’ and we do this at our peril. There are a lot of behaviours that can be observed in friends, colleagues, family members, and even ourselves that suggest poor mental health. This may be as a result of acute stress, depression, neurosis and may manifest in behaviours such as poor sleeping or eating disorders, hyper anxiety, a very short fuse, an inability to be positive about anything and the list is infinite based on any individuals’ circumstances and constitution. On the more extreme of the scale are people who are actually in the throes of undiagnosed serious mental health problems such as clinical depression, psychosis, personality disorders, schizophrenia and others.

It is important to be clear that many people with the more serious conditions can and do function in their daily lives; they can hold down responsible jobs and maintain relationships. It’s a misconception that if you have the more serious conditions, you will be running down the streets naked or there will be some strange signal emanating from your being. Having said this, there is more likelihood for things to get worse and potentially progress to something more debilitating if untreated. The same can be said for the milder forms of mental health problems such as depression and chronic stress. If left unmanaged or untreated, they can lead to more serious psychological problems.

Do something different and extra special for yourself this week. Think of and identify the things in your life that bring you the greatest joy, happiness, laughter and write them down. If you have a very long list and some things are not necessarily practical or easily attainable then pick out three to five things that are.  Then think of and write down three to five things that you know immediately impact negatively on your mental health (your triggers). Have these lists within close proximity and make the required preparation to address both lists when needed.

I have always had certain things and people I know I can access that will always bring me various levels of joy, and I invest in keeping these things and people close to me in one shape or another. Over the past year, I have added going to the gym as another resource which I was very surprised to find out was a great stress buster as well as all the other health benefits it provides. I plan to continue to find out other creative things I can add to my list of mental health resources. I have been building my own personal list for some time now. I have found that different things work at different times. I have also found Prayer, meditation and affirmations to be incredibly powerful and soothing. I also recently started writing in a gratitude journal, something I have tried unsuccessfully to take up several times in the past. There is something about my recent circumstances in life that has created the perfect situation and time to be very much in touch with the many things I have to be grateful for.

Thinking ahead of time on how to look after and protect your mental health is a useful and wise exercise so when you are faced with stressful moments when thinking clearly or objectively does not come easy, you have something already prepared that could be a resource to you.

You would be surprised at the very simple type of things that can bring you light or even great physical and psychological relief. I love nature so I have a house full of plants and flowers and I like getting my hands dirty with soil, so I am out in the garden planting as often as I can. There is something quite spiritual about communing with nature and being a part of creating life either through natural human birth or birthing other living things such as plants (I accept this is not an activity for everyone).

Your home must be the place where you can return to find succour and solace from the big bad world. It must be the place that envelops you with love, surrounds you with the spirit of peace and joy, where you have established and invested all that is good and healthy so it can work for you when you need it most.

I have left the best mental health tonic for the last and that is about relationships! Building and maintaining healthy relationships is unquantifiable. If you have invested and nurtured healthy relationships with partners, children, friends, colleagues, community, you will know that what you can potentially reap from these relationships is immeasurable and is literarily life saving. It doesn’t even have to be any earth shattering, major intervention or the provision of an elaborate gesture on their part that does the job. Some of simplest communication can make a difference. It is the quality rather than quantity of the interaction that matters.


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