Mental Health Illnesses
Achieve and Maintain Mental Health
Mental health is inherently problematic, both for patients and caregivers. On the patient side, many people do not report mental health issues to their physicians or caregivers because of a perceived stigma associated with psychological conditions and illnesses. Some people also believe that they can "make themselves better" simply by changing their mindset, while others convince themselves that there really is no problem at all even though symptoms have been ongoing for an extended period of time.
Caregivers face diagnostic challenges, given that most mental health conditions present with few, if any, physical symptoms. Thus, they are left to make a diagnosis and form a treatment plan based on the patient's own reporting, which may not always be accurate or tell the whole story. Moreover, many mental health issues are not "curable," the way a broken bone is curable. In many cases, effective "symptom management" that improves the patient's quality is the best outcome.
Maintaining your mental health isn't as straightforward as taking care of your physical body, either. While you know that eating a balanced and healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and getting plenty of sleep will take care of your body, there isn't an analogous regimen you can follow to take care of your mind. Genetic and environmental factors also play a major role in many mental illnesses, meaning that some people are at increased risk of developing them no matter what interventions they may take. Still, there are a few general guidelines you can follow to take care of your mental health and put yourself at reduced risk. These guidelines are also effective if you are suffering from a chronic mental health condition and need some guidance for day-to-day symptom management.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
Researchers and clinicians urge existing patients as well as the general population to follow these lifestyle guidelines as a means of protecting mental health:
- Get regular exercise. A growing body of research is finding that vigorous aerobic activity both lowers your risk of developing chronic mental health problems as well as alleviates symptoms in people suffering from mental health issues. Exercise is one of the pillars of the treatment of depression and anxiety, among other common psychiatric conditions.
- Get plenty of sleep. Experts recommend that adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Promote restful sleep by limiting caffeine intake and going to bed and waking up around the same time each day and night.
- Avoid illicit drugs. Illicit drug use is associated with greatly increased risk of developing a mental health problem. Given the risks they also pose to your physical health, they are best avoided altogether.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a nervous system depressant, and excessive consumption can lead to a whole host of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. Suicide rates are also significantly higher in alcoholics than they are in the general population. Doctors recommend that you have no more than two drinks in any given day and no more than 10 drinks in any given week.
- Eat well. Eating a healthy, balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to maintain itself. While researchers have yet to pinpoint a specific relationship between poor diet and mental illness, they do know that there are many foods, such as almonds and bananas, which can boost your mood.
- Be social. People who have strong interpersonal bonds and a well-established sense of community are less likely to suffer from mental health problems, according to recent research. Join interest groups, stay in touch with friends, and enjoy regular social outings. You'll feel more connected and less isolated.
While there is no set formula to follow, incorporating more of the aforementioned practices into your lifestyle will help you reduce your risks and maintain better mental balance.