My mental health and me

Our mental health is as important as our physical health. Disturbances in our mental health could affect our physical health. So, we must take good care of both. Life is complicated and full of ups, downs, pain, joy, twist, turns, setbacks, and triumphs leading to acute mental distress. Acute mental distress is usually short-lasting with complete return to normal mental state. Sometimes in life, everyone experiences mental distress which is a natural way we respond to stress mentally. Mental problem is when mental distress fails to resolve within a reasonable period and often time, is associated with some level of impairment in functions. When not controlled, mental problem could progress to mental illness. Mental illness is a dysfunction involving the brain that negatively affects someone’s thoughts, emotions, and/or behaviors and significantly impairs functions and quality of life.

Mental problem and illness are very common in our society. Report from Canadian Mental Health Association and Canadian Mental Health Commission stated that every year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction problem and by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have—or have had—a mental illness. The government of British Columbia estimated that annual cost of mental health problems in 2010 to be $6.6 billion.

Achieving and maintaining quality and optimal mental health is key in preventing mental health problem and illness. Self- management which include identification and effective practice of recommended healthy lifestyle are linked to sustainable and efficient mental health. Below are some proven self-care practice that influence mental health status.

Exercise-Exercise improves blood circulation to and in brain, maintaining balance of brain chemicals. This improves feeling of well-being, mental alertness and physical fitness. Aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. In addition to improving functions of brain chemical, a physically fit individual is free of obesity and sedentary lifestyle which are known risk factors to mental problem and illness.

Chronic stress and relaxation– Prolong stress leads to long term exposure of brain to stress chemicals. This is associated with changes on the structures and functional connections on some parts of brain, contributing to mental problem and illness. In contrast, quality relaxation improves mental health and includes yoga, mindfulness, meditation, adequate sleep and deep breathing.

Nutrition – Eating a brain-healthy diet improves mental health. A recent study found that a long term consumption of Mediterranean-style (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil), supplemented with fish oil leads to reduction in depression.

Social connection/support– Human beings are social creatures. We need the companionship of others to thrive in life, and the strength of our connections has a huge impact on our mental health and happiness. Being socially connected to relatives , friends and others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost self-worth, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness, and even add years to your life. On the flip side, lacking strong social connections can pose a serious risk to our mental and emotional health.

Chronic disease management- Chronic diseases are common in Canada. This include heart diseases, lung diseases, kidney diseases, diabetes mellitus and others. According to Mental Health Commission of Canada, approximately 87 per cent of Canadians are likely to be directly affected by chronic disease or major illness in their lifetime. An estimated 25 to 50 per cent of people living with a chronic illness and 20 per cent of their care givers will develop depression. Proper management of chronic disease could prevent possible complications including mental health problem and illness.

Abuse of alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs– Chronic abnormal use of these drugs can lead to both short- and long-term changes in the brain, contributing to mental problem and illness. Compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders.

Sleep status– Studies have demonstrated a clear connection between mental health and sleep. According to Harvard Health, chronic sleep problems plague 50 – 80 per cent of mental health patients. Our sleep status is linked to our feeling of wellbeing and mental health.

For more details and information on locally available support for your mental health, feel free to contact your health professional and your local health center. You can also visit government of BC website using below link to learn more about provincial mental health services and programs.

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