Mental Health Awareness Week: Strengthening Our Community Live, Learn, Work and Play

Mental illness awareness means acceptance and love rather than judgment and shame; it means an end to the stigma and the beginning of hope.

- Annie Slease

By Lucy Kung’u

Every year, October 10 is set aside to mark World Mental Health Day. This year’s Mental Health Week theme is Strengthening Our Community – Live, Learn, Work and Play. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. It is all about how people think, feel, and behave. WHO stresses that mental health is not just about the absence of a mental disorders or disabilities. Furthermore, mental health can adversely affect relationships, our day to day lives and even physical health.

Risk factors for mental health disorders or illness

It is important to note that everyone is at a risk of mental health related issues or illnesses. No one is immune to mental health issues. It affects people from all walks of life, young old, male female, different races, rich, poor etc. Some of the risk factors that have been identified include:

- Frustration, which is defined as a feeling that you get when someone, something or a situation you cannot control or change blocks, prevents or stops your effort to get what you desire which you perceive as important to you;

- Social or interpersonal related issues, based on one’s attachment style, betrayals, neglect, break up of relationships, conflict, violence, among others;

- Financial issues, including the lack of finances or lack financial management skills, debts etc.;

- Current or past traumas, which are experiences that overwhelm your day to day coping skills e.g. stress, loss of a loved one, a job, a friendship, marriage, natural or man-made disasters;

- Lifestyle choices that negatively affect one’s life e.g. alcohol and drug abuse;

- Developmental disorders that may affect one’s learning, relationships, sexuality, control, personality, biological factors like - genetics, brain chemistry, brain structure, and another medical conditions like terminal illnesses, environmental factors among others.

Prevention and treatment

In the wake of increased mental health related issues, talking about ways of managing mental health is key. Some of the notable ways of preventing and treating mental health related issues include

- Being aware of mental health related issues.

- Embracing change, and remembering that no situation is permanent, and this is just a phase you can get through. This goes hand in hand with accepting situations that you cannot change, as this helps you face the threat, adjust, integrate and adapt to the changes that are in your best interest.

- Reappraising your habits and routines and clarifying your personal and social values.

- Talk to someone about how you feel. Talk to a friend, a family member or a colleague.

- Try to be creative. It helps in distracting you from having negative thoughts.

- Practicing mindfulness by taking a minute to stop what you are doing, focus on your breathing and think of a calming thought, image or belief. It is an incredibly powerful tool.

- Be kind to yourself. Take each hour at a time.

- Avoid putting too much pressure on yourself to perform.

- Self-care is important. Know when your body yearns for a break and take it. Go for a holiday, change environments among other activities. Create time to go for nature walks. Enjoy the beauty of the environment and take pictures. When not at work, rest and get enough sleep.

- Learn to just focus on what you can do and have control over.

- Be aware when you are about to react in ways that are prohibited.

- Reflection will help you to be in the present moment and remain sensitive to the demands and changes brought about by the issue you are facing. Deeply connect with your inner soul, strength and resources.

- A solution focused mind set and high frustration tolerance levels will help keep the peace.

- Stay away from substances that are likely to affect your judgment, reaction time or would cause you to act irrationally, violently or cause brain damage e.g. misuse of prescription drugs, excessive consumption of alcohol, use of illegal and hard drugs.

- Learn to wait and be patient as things settle down, learn to regulate all the negative emotions.

- Use relaxation techniques; meditation, breathing exercises, help restore balance in your life.

- Gratitude and compassion – both of these not only help to lower stress levels; they also help boost immunity and improve perspective. It takes only a few seconds to think of something you are grateful for.

- Flexibility is key. Change your thinking, get the facts to be able to correct wrong perceptions or beliefs, move from negative thinking “I feel helpless, there is nothing I can do” to positive Thinking “I can take it one day at a time, I will restart small to get to where I was or I will do things differently”.

If the feelings are persistent, seek help from a professional, like a psychologist or counselor who will help you with psychosocial issues or a psychiatrist for a biological issue that needs medication.

What to do to help

Despite the fact that mental health awareness is on the rise, stigma associated with mental health is still with us. People need to be intentional about getting facts and playing their part in reducing mental related issues. Below are some of the things one can do to help;

  • Learn more about mental health by reading widely. With information comes empowerment. Once you are empowered, offer support to your community, family and friends.

  • Create awareness about mental health. Talk to your family members, friends and your social cycles about mental health. This has been made easier by the availability of different social media platforms through which the shared messages can reach a larger audience.

  • Show individuals love and support. People with mental illnesses need love, support and respect. Not stigma, prejudice or judgment. Remember, mental illnesses can happen to anyone and showing love and support helps normalize talking about mental health hence reducing stigma associated with it.

    As we mark this year’s World Mental Health Week, let us purpose to be more mentally healthy, learn something new about mental health, take care of our mental health, practice self-care, support a friend or someone with a mental health related issue, show love and solidarity with those living with mental health related issues. Remember it is okay not to be okay. It is okay to seek help. Also remember that mental health is emotional, social and psychological well-being which contributes to a relatively happy, functional, productive and healthy life.

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