There is a lot of discussion around what poor mental health looks like – although not, perhaps, as much as there should be. Slowly but surely it is becoming more social acceptable to talk about your mental health and share how it impacts your life with others. We still tend to focus on the negative though – so, what does positive mental health look like?
Mental health is something every one of us has and is every bit as important as our physical health. Fortunately, we are living through a time where it is becoming more socially acceptable to talk about our feelings, fears and thoughts. There is increasing awareness of what poor mental health looks like and how we can support people. Many of us know to look for marked changes of behaviour – whether that’s withdrawal or euphoria. Many companies now have training on how to support colleague’s mental health. Many schools (finally!) have dedicated pastoral care teams who help support a group particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges.
This is positive progress and should be celebrated but, as with so many things, we tend to focus on the negative. I’ve recently been working with large groups of young people and they’re way more confident talking about mental health than I ever was at high school. Almost universally though they refer to ‘mental health’ and ‘mental health problems/ challenges’ as synonymous. They’ll pass comments casually, such as: ‘yeah she has mental health.’ To them, that means she’s going through a bad time – whether that be depression, anxiety, or something else entirely. There is still not a widespread awareness that everyone has mental health, in the same was as physical. Everyone’s experience of this is unique and it exists on a scale.
People’s mental health will vary with age, context and often simply depending on the day. Given how variable it is, it’s worth noticing when we go through periods of positive mental health and noting down some of the factors. What does positive mental health look like to you? How do you feel? What are you more likely to do, or not do?
For me, when my mental health is in a good place I’m more likely to make time to see my friends, but balance this with at least a couple of evening’s a week to myself. I’ll listen to happy music and find it hard not to start skipping as I walk, or even be tempted to laugh out loud. (I realise I’m making myself sound slightly insane but happiness that runs all the way through you is a truly infectious feeling.)
Something that can be tricky, is drawing the line between the cause and the symptom. For example, a sign of my mental health looking good is when I am sleeping well, waking less and having fewer nightmares. However, sleeping well is also the cause of positive mental health for me – it’s a circular situation. By paying attention to your wellbeing and what works, you can sustain positive cycles of causes and behaviour for longer. Sleeping well, eating well and make time for people that energise us is a great place to start. Let’s start celebrating positive mental health, sustaining it and encouraging it in others.