Mental health – why you should care
Throughout the year, there are various days, weeks and even months that are dedicated to mental health and raising awareness of its impact and importance in our lives. This is great and I applaud and support these days because they highlight a topic that has had, and still has, negative stigma associated with it. However, I believe that in the same way we have a fairly constant focus on our physical health we should also focus on, and work towards, improving our mental health. The brain and mind aren’t separate from the rest of the body, and mental health isn’t removed from physical health. They are part of the same system and work together, and therefore should be treated with equal importance.
I'm not sure about you, but I have met and interacted with individuals that looked physically healthy, but through the course of conversations with them, you start to realise that they’re struggling mentally. Sometimes the mental struggles have an impact, even if only minor, on their physical health. We can agree that good physical health is important for individuals from all walks of life, and at every age from youth through to the elderly. Do we have the same attitude towards mental health and wellbeing? Or is it something that we are wishy-washy about?
When talking about mental health in this instance, the focus isn’t necessarily on acute mental illness, which is characterized by significant and distressing symptoms of a mental illness requiring immediate treatment (Govt of Malta, 2019), or “psychotic disorders that are severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions. People with psychoses lose touch with reality” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2019). Rather here, we are more focused on other issues such as stress, depression and anxiety that can lead to further mental health illnesses. This is in no way to disregard those who have psychotic disorders or acute mental illness, but guidance on those illness always needs to come from a specialist.
There have been numerous articles, interviews and research projects that have underlined the role that exercise plays when it comes to improving an individual’s mental health and their overall wellbeing i.e. (Callaghan, 2004), (Deslandes, Moraes, Ferreira, & Veiga, 2009) (Morgan & Goldston, 2013), (Peluso & Andrade, 2005). Associating food and exercise with positive experiences in regards to your overall health is crucial in ensuring that you reap the mental health benefits of exercise. This means that you should try and avoid looking at exercise as a punishment for eating the “wrong foods” or putting yourself through a torturous workout because you’re “going to be bad” later on. The same applies to not starving yourself because you ate “something bad”. Having these negative associations with food and exercise, over time, can lead to unnecessary mental stress.
Stress, and understanding how to manage it can go a long way to ensuring that we don’t develop mental health issues, or make existing ones worse (Mind, 2013). The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that of all individuals who go and see their GP, approximately 60-70% of the visits have stress as the underlying cause of their symptoms.
Sometimes, it’s hard for us to acknowledge that we are stressed or feeling anxious. We can often feel that unless we have a full blown meltdown we are not really stressed or experiencing anxiety. In an attempt to take some of the power away from stress and anxiety, along with it’s potential to lead to further mental health issues, often acknowledging when we’re feeling a little bit off is a great start. Some of us may feel that we always have to be on, and put on a show for the people we interact with. This in itself can be mentally draining. We need to be authentic with ourselves, and provided that we have trusted people in our lives, be authentic with them too. Unfortunately we can’t truly bear our soul to every individual that we encounter, as some will try and use it to their advantage. However, the large majority of us have people in our lives who truly want to be there for us, we just need to let them in. I recently read a quote that said "a walled city doesn't have just one brick. Neither is a man, or woman, supported by themselves."
Because of the attitude of not wanting to be burden to anyone else, the times when the mental stress and anxiety of what we’re going through gets too much we tend keep it to ourselves. It is definitely easier said than done, but as human beings we were designed to share our burdens with a support network. The catch is, for our support network to be there for us, we have to be open and honest about who we are and what we’re going through. This isn’t to say that one person should “dump” all their problems on another, and not be there to offer support when it’s required. But by fostering trusted relationships, we can share our burdens with one another. Often, the life experience of the other person can help give perspective to our situation.
In her book, The Story of My Life, Helen Keller writes “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” This is because it can be so easy to get fixated on all the things that aren’t going right and that can have a snowball effect. Focussing solely on the negatives is a sure fire way to end up with a broken spirit. But if we focus on the positive, and do the things that will enhance our mental, emotional and social wellbeing, it will do wonders to our heart and mind. It’s been said that “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Pro. 17:22). When our hearts are happy, it gives us a better outlook as opposed to being stuck in a cycle of negativity.
So, will exercise alone give us the mental strength needed to push forward in a positive way each day? The answer is probably not. But if you have, or are experiencing any type of mental health issue, having exercise as a part of your routine, in conjunction with other processes, will always be beneficial.
As we enter the last six months of 2019, I want to challenge each of us, to do our bit as a part of a support network for those in our lives. I believe that in my role as a personal trainer, understanding that an individuals’ wellbeing needs are made up of more than the physical element is key to bringing about sustained success. I want each of us to be able to foster communities of positive mental, along with physical, health and if you would like to have a connection to this community, get in touch today.
If you or anyone you know are struggling with mental health issues, and you want some support from trained professionals, reach out to the organisations below, or ask your GP to help create a mental health plan.
Lifeline Australia – https://www.lifeline.org.au/ or 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au/home or 1300 22 4636
Callaghan, P. (2004). Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care? Journal of psychiatric and mental health nursing.
Deslandes, A., Moraes, H., Ferreira, C., & Veiga, H. (2009). Exercise and mental health: many reasons to move. Karger.
Govt of Malta. (2019). Acute Mental Illness. Retrieved from Department of Health: https://deputyprimeminister.gov.mt/en/mch/Pages/Hospital-Services/acute-mental-illness.aspx
Mind. (2013). How to manage stress. Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/#.XRHKiugzaUk
Morgan, W., & Goldston, S. (2013). Exercise and mental health. Taylor Francis.
Peluso, M., & Andrade, L. (2005). Physical activity and mental health: the association between exercise and mood.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Psychotic Disorders. Retrieved from MedLine Plus: https://medlineplus.gov/psychoticdisorders.html