If you are interested in maintaining a mentally healthy home and workplace or are impacted by your own or others’ mental health concerns, then this article is for you. Why? Because generally speaking, I believe we, as a society, are missing something. We all know that maintaining our physical health is critical, and most of us employ one or more forms of preventative maintenance in this regard, such as a healthy eating plan, regular exercise and routine checkups. But what about preventative maintenance for our emotional and mental health? How many of us prioritise that in our lives? And what are the consequences of not doing so? In this article, I explore these questions and how to develop healthy relationships – with yourself and others – that nurture your mental health from the perspective that prevention is always better than the cure.
Coming to terms with and learning from life's hard lessons
Firstly, it is important to point out that I am neither a medical practitioner nor a researcher. However, I am someone who has primarily lived in denial of my physical disability due to the concerns I had for how I would be perceived. I was unwilling to take the risk of being open about it as, in my mind, it was not socially acceptable. Consequently, putting up with the shame that my medical condition manifested seemed a better choice.
As a child growing up in the middle-class suburbs of a large city, the sometimes vehement discrimination towards people with disabilities was enough to have me shape a ‘web of perceptions’ that I never wanted to be seen as disabled. I successfully made that strategy work for over twenty years, but then my unhealthy perspective imploded, and my life sharply declined.
I have since come to terms with issues like alcoholism, divorce, fatherhood, disability, starting my own business, and dealing with the impact of deteriorating health conditions. As a result, I now have a deep understanding of what works in my life and what doesn't.
The stigma of mental health and disability
These days, I am passionate about being the best version of myself and contributing to others to support them in being the best version of themselves, largely because of my own life challenges. I think we all know there is a stigma surrounding mental health and disability, and yet we are challenged to effectively ‘deal with’ them. And given they are often invisible to others, I choose to partner with organisations like the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme, which recognises that not all disabilities and health problems (physical and mental) are visible and raises our collective awareness of the reality of these matters.
Below is an excerpt from their website:
Globally, 1 in 7 of us live with a disability. And of those, 80% are invisible. That is 1 billion people who are living with a non-visible disability. They can be physical, mental or neurological and include hundreds of conditions when these significantly impact day-to-day life.
Based on the figures quoted, about 15% of the world's population, or one in seven of us, lives with a disability. Astonishing, isn’t it? If I had known that earlier in my life, I would not have thought I was the ‘only’ one, nor would I have felt ashamed and the need to hide the truth from others. When reviewing the recent ‘People with disability in Australia 2022’ report, I was also surprised to learn that the self-reported level of low or moderate psychological distress in adults is approx 68% in people with a disability and 92% in people without a disability.
A hidden problem that is in plain sight
Does the data on self-reported levels of psychological distress, as highlighted in the report, reveal a big problem right under our noses? I believe it does. Mental health conditions can have a significant impact on all areas of life, such as school or work performance, relationships with family and friends and our ability to participate in the community. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports:
Mental health conditions are increasing worldwide. Mainly because of demographic changes, there has been a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders in the last decade (to 2017).
Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition, with suicide the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.
Two of the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year.
Despite these figures, the global median of government health expenditure that goes to mental health is less than 2%. Given the limited support, isn’t it time we focus as much on maintaining our mental health as we do on maintaining our physical health?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
I believe the common sense perspective that prevention is always better than the cure is one that we're not particularly effective in managing. For example, have you ever taken the time to think about what you could do to maintain your mental health as a preventative measure? A preventative mental health approach would provide more balance for individuals in the current health environment by enhancing the focus on prevention and integrating simple interventions and practices. It would improve the health and wellbeing of all people at all stages of life through a practical approach to prevention that addresses the broader determinants of our health and multiple life factors. It would also decrease the overall burden that leads to stress, anxiety, depression and poor physical health, thereby alleviating the load on our already stretched hospital system. Perhaps then more funds from the government coffers could be allocated to preventative mental health.
In my research, I discovered encouraging evidence that low-intensity interventions are both effective and, in some cases, deliverable by non-mental health professionals, thereby providing a cost-effective solution. This evidence is supported by a government review that shows promising results in terms of the efficacy and cost-reduction that came from low intensity mental health intervention trials rather than established services.
Through my own journey and ‘lived experience’, I have found that the learning and challenges I faced, as well as the knowledge gained from these circumstances and decisions, now support me in guiding others. Being open and authentic in communicating compassionately with people in relation to the challenging matters they face develops trust and encourages them to reciprocate and be open and authentic with me. The kinds of matters I support clients with include:
Separation and divorce,
Living with a visible or non-visible disability,
Starting a business,
Being an employee or employer, and
Dealing with the impact of a deteriorating health condition.
Developing healthy relationships with yourself and others
We all know the importance of healthy relationships when it comes to wellbeing. But not everyone is aware that the first and most important relationship to develop could be with yourself. Increasingly, insights into human psychology and philosophy provide unprecedented opportunities to offer solutions to low-intensity mental health issues and thereby achieve long-lasting wellbeing more effectively and at a lower cost. The basis for much of my life and work comes from an intense interest in studying and applying the philosophy of Being, which is articulated so well by Ashkan Tashvir in his most recently published book, Human Being. Some of the things I have learned from the study of Being and continue to apply to my own mental health maintenance plan include the following:
A healthy relationship with awareness and being conscious of your consciousness. For starters, it helps to be aware of things like family history or difficult childhood experiences that can be dealt with. Furthermore, being aware of current life stresses and strains gives you the opportunity to take preventative action.
Being responsible for a healthy lifestyle. By this, I mean doing what works for you. However, as a foundation, it should include getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and being physically active each day. Importantly this requires being open to new ideas and learning.
The power of purpose. Being present to a sense of a higher purpose in life that nurtures and fulfills you will contribute enormously to your mental wellbeing.
Considering the above points as your foundation for developing a healthy relationship with yourself and others will give rise to further ideas, actions and practices, which I encourage you to document in a holistic self-care plan. This is something I am currently working on with a group of others and includes an awareness and application of physical, emotional, spiritual, community, financial and workplace self-care and wellbeing practices. If you are interested in learning more, I invite you to reach out and make an enquiry. I'd love to hear from you.