Simple, Everyday Actions That Support Mental Health
by Elena Greco
Published in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY
Typical reading time: 3 minutes
What exactly is “mental health”? Life is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of feelings and experiences! No one is happy all the time, just as no one is sad all the time. Sometimes we’re ecstatic, sometimes we’re distraught. Sometimes we feel alone or hopeless; sometimes we’re exuberant and full of energy. Whatever we feel, we can rest assured that all of us experience these ups and downs in our lives. And whatever we experience, one thing is certain: it will CHANGE! Embracing ALL of our experiences as a normal part of life is one way of ensuring that we don’t get stuck in the rocky terrain of life or get thrown off balance.
Experiencing the ups and downs of life is not a disease; it is the inherent quality of life. Mental health means being able to weather the kaleidoscope of life and remain relatively in balance and able to function well in the midst of it all.
Mental health is important to all of us because it greatly affects our physical health, well-being, productivity, evolution and satisfaction, both individually and collectively.
Occasionally these ups and downs are a little too severe or extreme, and we have trouble getting on with our lives. At times like those it’s good to have support.
Exactly what is “support”? Support, with regard to mental health, means to assist or encourage. It also means resources we can rely or draw on when the need arises. Have you ever felt alone and just wished you could hear a human voice? That someone would listen or care? That’s what support is: someone simply being there for you when you’re in need, someone who lets you know that they’re in your corner. It can mean really listening when someone needs to talk; just being with and accepting someone when they’re having a hard time; offering a smile or a friendly word when someone is down.
Being able to email or text instantly is a wonderful thing, but they’re no replacement for actually being with someone; that energetic exchange gives us something that can’t be found anywhere else. And sometimes the sound of a human voice is infinitely more healing than reading text in an email. Human presence does have a healing effect. Never think that giving someone a smile isn’t a major contribution. At times a human connection is all we need to maintain our equilibrium, another way of describing mental health. When we feel supported, our immunity, mood and productivity increase, and we feel more like helping others. And helping others makes us feel better, too.
Support also means things that you do or rely upon that help you stay in balance in times of stress. We can support our own mental health by becoming aware of things that keep us in balance. Examples are having a support system of friends and colleagues and family; having a means of relaxation (such as meditation, yoga, visualization or hobbies) to combat stress that works for us; including pleasure and leisure in our busy work lives; time in nature; and engaging regularly in physical exercise that suits our body and temperament. It also means knowing in advance what we can do if we get stuck and need assistance, a personal plan of action. Do you know what to do to restore your equilibrium if you feel overly anxious or depressed? It’s good to plan ahead.
What are some ways we can support ourselves and others? The best support for our mental health comes from simple things we can do for ourselves and each other. First, just by showing someone that you value them, you are supporting them. This can mean listening to them, allowing them to share with you, or just BEING with them.
Because we are so geographically mobile, many of us have no extended family nearby. Some of us are very focused on our careers and don’t have much of a social life. Most of us have developed a rather intense connection to technology so that our time is spent communing with our computer instead of our best friend. We are bombarded with information and images from the media which now surround us. One of the results of all of this is an increase in our indifference to suffering; we feel removed from it.
Just by becoming aware of those around us and what we might to do to help them, we really can make a difference for each other. The good news is that supporting someone doesn’t require heroic action or specialized know-how. It isn’t really necessary to do a lot, and it doesn’t require a special degree!
There are services, professionals, groups and community organizations that are free or low cost. But most of all, we can each make a difference for each other.
When we think of support or helping people, we automatically tend to think of the medical model, that we are machines with “mental disorders” that need fixing, and that we require a “professional” with several degrees. We’re targeted with information about drugs that are available for these “disorders,” or special facilities approved by insurance companies. But this is really a very mechanized and artificial way of offering assistance and one that does not work very well. We are not machines in need of repair. We are human beings in need of companionship and community and health-promoting habits.
Just as we have a yearly check-up to keep track of our physical state, perhaps we should make it a regular part of our lives to evaluate our mental health maintenance and see if we need to change anything in our routine, our resources or our environment to keep ourselves mentally healthy.
And just as you have a plan in case of fire or medical emergency, it’s good to have a plan for mental health emergencies. Do you have a list of people, groups, organizations, websites or telephone numbers readily available that you can draw on when you find that your mental health needs some support?
Each of us can offer support to others in his or her own unique way. We all have something to offer each other, even if it’s just a smile! For example, there was a man in Australia named Don Ritchie who saved close to 400 people from jumping off a cliff in front of his cottage, a popular place to commit suicide, simply by walking out to them, smiling, and asking if they’d like to have a cup of tea with him and tell him what was bothering them. He once said “not to underestimate the power of a kind word and a smile.”
See Elena’s bios for more information about the author.