We often focus more on treating illnesses, both physical and mental, than on staying healthy. But the absence of mental illness does not necessarily mean good mental health.
What is mental health? According to the World Health Organization, 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.” As we observe Mental Illness Awareness Week this week it is a good opportunity for self-assessment with a brief mental health checkup.
A Brief Mental Health Checkup
While not exhaustive, this list provides a starting point to examine how you’re doing emotionally and mentally. If any of these items raise a concern, talk with your health care provider.
Are you able to focus on the task at hand and get it done in a timely manner? Or, do you find yourself overrun with missed deadlines and undone chores? Poor concentration is a hallmark of ADHD, but it can also be a symptom of depression or anxiety.
One characteristic important to good mental health is knowing yourself (being self-aware). How “in touch” do you feel with yourself? Do you feel like you’re experiencing emotions and don’t know why? It’s not uncommon to get so busy that you don’t have time to process what is happening on an emotional level. However, taking time to process events and emotions by writing in a journal or talking with a friend can be important to good emotional health.
Do you feel like you’re avoiding yourself? It may seem like a funny question, but if you find yourself trying to keep from being alone, there could be something you are avoiding emotionally. Many people find feelings of anxiety or worry are intensified when they are alone, and so find ways to stay busy.
Do your moods feel pretty stable, or are you experiencing significant mood swings (highs or lows)? Are you crying more than usual? Feeling persistently depressed for two weeks or more could indicate clinical depression. Talk to your health care provider.
Do you feel that you have the energy to do the things you need and want to do? Fatigue can be a sign of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, but it can also be a symptom of many physical illnesses. If you find that you are feeling unusually fatigued, contact your doctor.
How are you sleeping well at night? Do you wake rested? Poor sleep can often be a sign that there is something troubling you emotionally. When under stress or dealing with a more serious mental illness, many people have trouble falling asleep or wake frequently during the night.
Are you feeling tense and anxious all the time? Is it hard to unwind at the end of the day? We live in a fast-paced society that is frequently stressful. However, if you’re unable to take mental breaks and relax for a few moments, then your stress could be approaching dangerous levels. Relaxation is a skill that many of us have to learn and practice. There are many ways to help you relax such as meditation, yoga and progressive muscle relaxation.
Is there an appropriate balance between your home life and your work life? Are you getting in some “me-time,” including physical exercise and spiritual pursuits? Achieving perfect balance is probably not possible, but it’s worth striving for!
Adapted from a previous series of posts from by Gina Duncan, M.D.