Putting your mental health on the map

Mental health is an umbrella term for many different conditions and feelings.

Mental health has for too long been a taboo subject. It has only been more recently that people have been able to speak out about their experiences.

And suddenly there is a grasp of the concept that it is ok not to be ok.

The statistics associated with mental health in the United Kingdom alone are staggering:

  • 1 in 4 people are diagnosed with a mental health problem each year
  • 10% of children have clinically diagnosable mental health issue
  • It is estimated that over the last weekend alone 1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem
  • Up to 10% of adults in England will experience depression at least once in their lifetime
  • Anxiety and depression are responsible for 1/5 of lost work days in the UK.

(Statistics from mentalhealth.org.uk)

Mental health problems can come in all shapes and sizes, range in their severity and affect anyone regardless of their age.

Types of Mental Health Problems

Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of unease like fear or tension which has many different levels.

Most of us have felt anxious at some point in our lives whether it’s the nervous feeling before an interview or the dreaded butterflies before a presentation.

Feelings like these are normal but for some people their anxiety can be severe making them unable to control their fears.

Anxiety is a symptom of other disorders too, like:

  • Phobias
  • Panic disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Social phobia

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is defined as chronic or persistent worry. The subject of worry can be anything from finances to family, but it is excessive and hard for the individual to control. GAD can occur at any time; some cases begin in childhood but many in early adulthood and the cause is unknown.

GAD is relatively common in the UK with around 5% of adults having the disorder. With the disorder having significant effects on daily life it can be controlled with medication or psychological therapy.

Depression

Depression is where an individual has a low mood over a long period of time which affects their everyday life.

Of course, most people experience a low mood at times, but depression interferes with your life and doesn’t just go away. Worldwide, depression is the leading cause of morbidity.

Sufferers are at a greater risk of developing diseases which are usually associated with increasing age such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

Many things can trigger depression, including:

  • Bereavement
  • Having a baby
  • Losing your job
  • Family break-up
  • Experiencing a trauma

If you have family members who suffer with depression, you may also be susceptible.

The condition is often overlooked by many people who don’t believe it is a ‘real’ health condition.

It is.

Some people think it’s a sign of weakness.

It’s not.

Some people also think you can just snap out of it.

You can’t.

Depression affects around 1 in 10 people at one stage in their life and can affect both men and women, both old and young. The good news is, it is treatable. With the right support and/or medication most people make a complete recovery from the condition.

Suicidal thoughts

Suicide is the act of purposely ending your own life. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.

Feelings may include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings, like people would be better off without you
  • Desperation
  • Unbearable pain

Physical symptoms may include:

  • The urge to self-harm
  • Neglecting yourself
    • No pride in appearance
  • Changes in appetite
    • Weight loss or gain
  • Unable to sleep
    • Waking early
  • Low self esteem
    • Feeling of self-hate

Suicide rates are consistently higher in men than females across the UK and Republic of Ireland. But suicide can affect anyone of any age and there is help out there.

If you or someone you know is affected, then seek help by:

  • Talking to a family member or friend or someone you can trust
  • Call Samaritans 116 123
  • Go to Accident and Emergency and explain to the staff how you are feeling
  • Contact the NHS 111 service
  • Make an emergency appointment to see your GP

How Can We Keep Our Minds Healthy?

Talk to someone

If you’re feeling low, depressed, or generally feel like you are unable to cope, sometimes the hardest but best thing to do is talk to someone.

The person you choose to talk to could be a close family member like a parent, sibling, uncle or aunt or a close friend. But it should, always be someone you feel like you can trust.

There are also helplines and charities who can work through issues and help you get the help you need, including:

Samaritans

  • Offer help and support to anyone who is feeling down
  • Trained to speak to people who are feeling suicidal

Mind

  • Offer help and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem

NSPCC

  • A charity which are focussed on helping and protecting children
  • Both adults and children can call for help regarding the welfare of a child

Take regular exercise

Exercise is often overlooked as a treatment for mental health problems, but it can have major health benefits both psychologically and physically.

A study by Knapen et al., (2015) looked at meta-analyses carried out by researchers with reference to exercise and depression.

The reason for the study was so the researchers could present some clinical guidelines for exercise therapy. Knapen found that two meta analyses confirmed the benefits of exercise for sufferers of depression.

In mild to moderate cases, exercise was shown to be as effective as antidepressant medication. In severe cases of depression exercise has been shown to be a good complementary therapy alongside medication.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Improves coping strategies for stress
  • Gives the individual independence
  • Gives the individual a good quality of life
  • Improvements in self body image
  • Can improve social life

In cases of schizophrenia, exercise has been shown to improve patient’s mental health as well as their cardiovascular fitness. A study by Scheewe et al., (2012) showed exercising once or twice a week reduced the need of care for schizophrenic patients.

Exercise therefore shouldn’t be ignored as a potential treatment or complementary therapy for all kinds of mental health issues. It is also a good way to keep physically healthy and help prevent mental health problems from occurring.

Eat a healthy diet

Eating a healthy diet can go a long way in helping to improve your mood.

Having a good diet can greatly improve your mental wellbeing by:

  • Giving you more energy
  • Inducing calmer moods
  • Increasing positive thoughts
  • Enabling clearer thinking

Some good tips to follow include:

Plan your meals

  • Always eat breakfast
  • Eat smaller meals spaced out throughout the day
  • Avoid sugary snacks, drinks and alcohol which can affect your blood sugar levels

Try to eat 5 different portions of fruit and veg a day

  • Eat foods containing potassium which is essential to maintain your nervous system
    • Tomatoes
    • Mushrooms
    • Bananas
  • Try some raw vegetables
    • Cooking can destroy the good nutrients you need

Drink plenty of water

  • To stay hydrated you need to drink at least 2 pints of water per day
  • Try green or herbal tea
  • Diluted fruit juice

Eat good fats

  • Nuts
  • Chicken
  • Oily fish
    • Mackerel
    • Sardines
    • Pilchards
  • Dairy products
    • Milk
    • Cheese
    • Yoghurt
  • Eggs

Cut down your caffeine intake

  • Caffeine is a stimulant
    • Makes you feel more awake
  • But can make you feel anxious and depressed

A study has also shown how dietary flavonoids may also play a positive role in enhancing the human memory, learning and neuro-cognitive performance. Some of the major dietary sources of flavonoids include:

  • Tea
  • Cocoa
  • Blueberry

Flavonoids have been shown to improve both memory and learning in humans as they protect vulnerable nerve cells and can increase their function. Evidence also supports the use of gingko biloba particularly in conditions such as Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia.

Sensible alcohol consumption

Although we may usually drink alcohol to instigate a good feeling or to have a good time, drinking too much can bring on depression.

Alcohol is in fact a depressant and so can have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing. It is also highly addictive and can majorly impact our memory.

Ask for help

We all need a little help sometimes and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. Speak to someone you love or trust and let them know if you are struggling. Just speaking with someone can help ease any worries you may have.

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Having always been intrigued by how body’s work, both in their day to day functions and also when things go wrong, Leanne is pursuing her passion for health. By combining her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science and a Masters in Science communication with her love for writing, she is passing on her knowledge to Health Hub readers. Leanne strongly believes that science and health are something that should be talked about more and she hopes her articles will enable such conversations.