There’s been a rapid increase in talking about mental health these days. It’s always been such an important topic to me, especially to try and remove the stigma around mental health problems and assisting those who experience them.
The personal aspect about this is that I’ve never really struggled with severe mental health issues myself. It’s something that I’m incredibly grateful for. The issue with that is because I had no real awareness of the topic, I found it difficult to empathize with people who did struggle with mental health in my early adolescence.
Since then, I’ve had several friends and family members who battled with it on a regular basis, and who were kind enough to educate me on the topic. That’s not to say that it wasn’t my responsibility to go out there and learn about it for myself; it was just an advantage that I received.
In today’s post, I’d like to look at ways to understand mental health from an emotional intelligence lens, how to try and look after your own mental health, how we can support those in our life who do struggle with mental health (by removing stigma), and why to stop spitting out solutions (a problem I struggle quite a lot with as an engineer/consultant).
Understanding mental health
The difficult thing about understanding mental health is that we each have our own version of ‘normal’. What we’ve experienced internally from the time we were kids up until now forms the basis of our reality. A lot of the time, it takes quite a lot of experience or reflection to start noticing/understanding your own mental health.
A great place to start is by being a little more conscious of your thoughts and moods. Are they sometimes erratic? Uncomfortable? Inconsistent? Unbearable? Bizarre? Wild? Scary?
One of the best ways to structure your thoughts and understand yourself better is by journalling. A lot of people tell me that what they write down can sometimes feel uncomfortable. This is already an indicator of your mental processes and overall mental health (you obviously develop the skill of writing down your thoughts, I’m talking more about the nature of the thoughts themselves).
Once you have better awareness of what goes on in the processor, you can start working towards maintaining a healthy performance. Find habits and routines that allow you to feel challenged and fulfilled.
If you really struggle here to identify and act on what you can do to improve your mental health, it might be a good option to seek out therapy. It’s just a great way for you to make sense of the chaos and find a comfortable space to unravel your mysteries (speaking from experience).
Looking after our own mental health
This is the tough part. This is the part that requires effort, discipline and consistency. If we don’t look after our own mental health and keep in check on a regular basis, we could then start struggling to perform optimally.
I just want to make it clear that I’m not saying we should do this purely for performance. I’m just using that word to help us understand how it inevitably affects our performance, which affects our overall ambitions, mood and aspirations.
When it comes to looking after our own mental health, we need to start with awareness as I’ve discussed in the previous section. That awareness and acceptance then allows us to formulate an action plan to keep ourselves in check.
A few habits that tend to work well (for me personally) include staying active (even if it’s just a 15 min walk), getting sunlight on a regular basis (kill 2 birds with 1 stone by going on that walk), spending time in nature (now the walk is proving to be remarkable), eating fruits and veggies as often as possible, taking time off from work/studies to recover, socializing with people who genuinely care about me, reading an entertaining book and writing in a journal.
It sounds obvious and possibly boring, but don’t underestimate the cumulative effect of consistently doing these little habits on a daily basis. You’ll be astonished at the impact it’ll have on your life. Find what works best for you and keep at it. Once you’ve managed to keep yourself in check, you’ll be able to support those around you.
Supporting those who suffer with mental disorders
The main thing about awareness campaigns is that it aims to educate people as well as ensure that stigma is dealt with. We’ve seen incredible progress over the past decade in terms of a global acceptance of mental health disorders. This is important because it allows for diversity, equity and inclusion.
When it comes to supporting people who may suffer from certain mental health issues, it’s important that we come from a nonjudgemental standpoint. Additionally, we need to avoid having a superiority complex if we considered ourselves to be mentally healthy.
What I’ve noticed from my own limited experience is that people appreciate being heard and acknowledged. It can oftentimes be difficult to emphasize, especially if you’re not entirely sure what it feels like. But just being there, showing that you care, putting in the effort to comfort them and accepting that they’re more than just their struggle, can go a long way.
What I’ve also learned is that you don’t want to jump into finding solutions (which can sometimes go against my instincts, so I have to be very conscious of this).
Stop looking for solutions
This applies to helping people deal with their mental health issues as much as it does to helping people with their problems in general. Giving unsolicited advice and pointing out solutions to other people’s problems is something many of us struggle with. The reason why we do this is obviously subconscious. It’s easier than sitting in the discomfort of empathy or listening attentively.
As much as we think we’re helping other people by throwing out suggestions to their seemingly simple problems, it can actually distance them and make them less comfortable opening up to us. It makes the them feel unworthy of being able to solve it themselves.
People love autonomy. We love to feel like we’re in control. Like we’re capable. Like we got this. The minute someone else comes and tells you how to do it (even if it’s a perfectly viable solution that can make your life a 100x better), you’re likely to resist it and try to ignore it.
The same logic applies when you’re trying to help someone who is feeling anxious or depressed. Instead of jumping to a solution and telling them to go drink water/ meditate / sleep / exercise, try and engage more meaningfully in discussion and allow them to do more of the talking.
I’m still trying to find the right balance here myself, but what I’ve noticed about giving advice is that you should either wait for it to be asked, or prompt them first and check whether they’re in a receptive space to hear you out.
It’s always going to be complicated to try and understand mental health, even your own. The point is to try your best each and every day, whatever that means to you. Your best may differ from time to time and that’s okay. You’re going to get through this. You’re strong and capable enough. Don’t ever give up. You got this.