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May 2, 2022 • read
Why you should check in on your mental health
Your mental health influences your take on life. It’s both precious and linked to your physical health. Nevertheless, mental illness isn’t always given the same weight as a physical illness. But feeling unwell mentally or emotionally is as valid as being physically ill.
Ignoring your psychological state doesn’t make you feel better, and untreated mental illness can affect all aspects of your life. Here are the effects of mental health, how to improve it, and when to ask for help.
Why is mental health important and how does it affect your life?
Your mental health dictates in large part how you feel about your life and the world around you. It fluctuates over the course of your life, depending on your situation, and these fluctuations affect your wellbeing.
Good mental health lets you deal with the challenges that life throws at you, helping you to bounce back from adversity. Periods of feeling low or poor mental health don’t necessarily mean mental illness, however. If those feelings, thoughts, and behaviours begin to affect your daily life though, it may be a sign that you’re dealing with a mental illness.
Beyond colouring how you feel about things, mental health also has repercussions for your physical health. Individuals with mental illness are more likely to experience poor physical health, diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions. Simply having a diagnosis of certain conditions can even shorten your life expectancy.
What are the main causes of mental health problems?
Scientists know that certain mental illnesses run in families, but what’s written in your genes isn’t always your destiny. Genetics may make you more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders, but your environment influences whether or not these genes are “turned on.” This is known as epigenetics — or how your genes are influenced by what happens to you.
Early life or developmental stresses, for example, such as trauma, neglect, and abuse, are often underlying factors triggering mental health conditions. These don’t have to be limited to early life, however. Abuse, discrimination, and harassment in your adult years can also contribute to the development of psychopathology.
Beyond your environment, physical issues or defects within your brain can also contribute to psychiatric disorders. Research shows, for example, that changes in temporal and frontal areas of the brain are associated with major depressive disorder (MDD).
More than these processes, however, might be responsible for mental illness. New research is looking at how your gut health may influence your mental health. This may come as a surprise, but a large percentage of neurotransmitters, or your body’s chemical messengers, are actually made in your gut.
Your brain uses these neurotransmitters — like serotonin — to send messages throughout itself and your body. If your gut microbiota changes, it can affect your mental health and your behaviour.
So while the precise cause of your mental illness isn’t fully understood, there’s likely more than one factor at play.
How do I know if I need to seek help and what are the early signs of mental health problems?
While some find that they’re able to deal with their mental health challenges without professional intervention, this isn’t always the case. Seek additional support if you’re experiencing the following:
- Thoughts of self-harm
- Thoughts of hurting others
- Behaviours causing problems in your personal or professional life
- Confusing, upsetting, or intrusive thoughts
- Problems with thinking or concentrating
- Excessive worrying or anxiety
- Persistent low mood
- Extreme irritability or anger
- Having trouble or being unable to carry out daily tasks
- An intense period of emotional stress or bereavement
What is good mental health and how does one achieve it?
Good mental health doesn’t mean being happy all the time. Everyone will likely have their own definition of what good mental health means to them, but there are a few commonalities.
Emotional ups and downs are a feature of life, and everyone experiences them. If you’re in a good place mentally, you’ll be able to weather these fluctuations. That’s not to say that you’re not affected by stress, or that you won’t get anxious or stressed. Despite these feelings, you’ll be able to function and eventually bring yourself back to a more neutral or positive feeling.
Being able to make and maintain relationships is also a good indication that you’re in a positive place psychologically. Socializing and forming bonds with others can be challenging when you’re experiencing mental health issues. No relationship is perfect, but whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, if you’re engaging socially, that’s a good sign.
Scratching everything off your daily to-do list is a tall challenge, but accomplishing daily tasks is a good marker that you’re in a healthy place psychologically. Being productive fosters a sense of achievement — an important part of life satisfaction.
How can I improve my mental health?
It may seem like your emotions have a life of their own, but there are tangible, measurable things you can do to increase your overall happiness and improve your mental wellbeing. The trick is to do them consistently — here’s how:
- Spend more time with the people you love — things are nice, but they don’t make you happy. Spending time and making memories with the people you love does.
- Get outside — spending time in nature doesn’t just promote calm and reduce feelings of isolation, it can actually make you feel happier.
- Exercise — this helps to reduce stress and can keep depression at bay.
- Give generously — you’ve likely heard that it’s better to give than to receive, but it’s true! Numerous studies show that giving money or other gifts to others increases feelings of happiness more than spending it on yourself does.
- Be kind — research shows that expressing your anger leads to more anger. Being nice on the other hand leads to a whole lot of socially desirable outcomes. It can result in stronger relationships, better career opportunities, even being a better parent — all crucial for a happy life.
- Volunteer — not only are you giving your time, but volunteering also broadens your social horizons and helps you to form meaningful connections with others.
How common are mental health issues in Canada?
Mental illness is notorious for making you feel isolated and alone. The truth, however, is that one in five Canadians experiences a mental health issue every year. And half go through it by the time they hit 40.
Mental illness doesn’t care about how much money you make or how educated you are, and at some point, it touches every Canadian, either directly or indirectly. Youth are most likely to be affected — almost three-quarters of people with a mental illness experience symptoms before the age of 18.
What are the most common mental health disorders?
Anxiety and mood disorders top the list of the most common mental illnesses in Canada. This applies to conditions like depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks and disorder, and bipolar disorder.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about one in five Canadians experienced symptoms of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A survey from spring 2021, a year into the pandemic, however, shows that number is now closer to one in four Canadians.
Can mental health issues be preventable?
Many factors contribute to whether you will develop a mental health issue, and many are outside of your control.
Certain lifestyle adjustments may help to control symptoms if you do have a mental health issue. In some cases, they can also provide some protection against developing one.
Sleep, for example, is implicated in many different mental health conditions, ranging from depression to bipolar disorder.
While it’s not possible to prevent a mental illness entirely, getting enough sleep, practicing stress reduction, healthy eating, and building strong social connections may lessen your susceptibility and boost your resiliency.
You likely wouldn’t hesitate to seek treatment for a broken arm or take time off work because of the flu, but may hesitate to do the same for your mental health. Not treating these issues seriously can be catastrophic. Without treatment, mental health conditions often get worse, making your relationships, work, and daily functioning more difficult.
Addressing your mental health issue is worth it — most people experiencing depression get better with treatment. That’s why scheduling therapy sessions or taking time off work to address your mental health is so important.
When you’re feeling low, however, even reaching out for help can seem like a huge task. Online therapy can make it easier to get the support you need by providing mental health counselling from the comfort of your own home. Plus, online counselling with a therapist fits more easily into your schedule and makes finding a therapist more convenient.
If you live in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, or Yukon and feel like you may be experiencing a mental illness, seeing a mental health physician can help. A mental health physician can diagnose and help you to manage your mental illness. And if necessary, they can also prescribe medication, including refills, for you to pick up at the pharmacy of your choice. In Quebec, they can also help to diagnose and provide treatment for ADHD.
Prioritizing your mental health is crucial — reach out today to start your mental health journey.