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What Is Mental Health?
The World Health Organization characterizes mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual
- Realizes their own abilities
- Copes with the normal stresses of life
- Works productively and fruitfully
- Is able to contribute to their community
Mental health is also a large continuum ranging from optimal mental health to poor mental health, into mental illness. We can do things every day to create better mental health for ourselves and others, including physical exercise and creating mental resilience.
There are many social, psychological and biological factors to consider in determining mental health for anyone at any one point in time. Some factors are within our control, including exercise, eating and sleeping well and cultivating good physical health for ourselves and others. Some factors, such as access to economic resources, education and rapid social change, are not.
You have a personal responsibility to create good mental health for yourself wherever possible, and to help create a workplace environment that allows others to create it for themselves. We all have a shared stake in the psychological well-being of our workplaces.
Our interactions with each other as team members or as leaders contribute to our psychological experiences in the workplace. In addition to our impacts on each other, the nature of some work and workplaces can create their own sets of challenges and rewards.
What Does Mental Health Look Like?
Mental health is not the same as mental illness. Everyone has some level of mental health (good, bad or somewhere in the middle) all the time. However, it is possible to live without mental illness for your entire life.
It is also possible to have a mental illness and still have good mental health, often because the person with the mental illness is proactively managing their illness by looking after themselves, getting physical exercise and sleep and practicing personal resiliency.
Sometimes mental illness and mental health do intersect, and then it's important to understand the difference.
Poor mental health can look a lot like mental illness, and in some cases can and should be treated as such. But too much stress is not the same as depression and anxiety, which is not the same as addictions, which are not the same as coping skills and personal resiliency.
Mental Health Scenarios
Poor mental health takes many forms, and can manifest itself differently according to the individual. This Mental Health Scenarios document (PDF, 242KB) illustrates poor or compromised mental health, as well as signs to look for and best practices to help address the situation.
It's hard to know where you stand on the subject of mental health if you're not already somewhat self-aware. When it comes to mental health, self-awareness is about understanding your own emotions and normal state, so that you can tell when you are not where you want to be.
There are many online resources for screening self-tests, including Here to Help Screening Self-test.
Tips to become more self-aware:
- Find a friend you can really talk to. Sometimes just talking is enough, and sometimes having someone reflect yourself back to you can be helpful when you're stuck
- Lean on your family if possible
- Get some professional help. Free and confidential short-term counselling is a great place to start
- Get some exercise. It increases the blood flow to your brain, releases endorphins and helps flush out stress hormones. It can also give you time to reflect
- Try self-reflecting exercises like journaling, mindfulness or meditation
When you are self-aware, you can better manage your own mental health and understand when others may be struggling.
We all play many roles in our lives: employee, parent, partner and friend. Multiple roles are positive for our physical and mental health, allowing us to connect with others and experience personal accomplishment and satisfaction.
With each of these roles comes the responsibility to create good mental health for ourselves. There are lots of simple ways to do that, including
- Talking about your feelings
- Eating well and keeping active
- Keeping in touch with supportive family and friends
- Taking breaks when you can
- Drinking sensibly (or not at all)
- Asking for help when you need it
However, sometimes the events in your personal life are so demanding you may find it difficult to keep up with the requirements of your job. Or that your job may put pressure on your personal life leaving you without enough time or energy to spend with family, friends or to participate in enjoyable activities.
Read on to see how resiliency plays an important role in achieving and maintaining positive mental health.
People who practice positive mental health skills have an ability to bounce back from adversity called resilience. With increased resilience, people have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible and creative in bad times as well as good.
One of the key factors in resilience is the ability to balance or regulate your emotions. Resilient people have the capacity to recognize their emotional responses and keep them from interfering with personal goals and achievements. Another key factor is having a strong support network of trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support in tough times.
Everyone is different: resiliency is a personal matter. Not all methods will be equally beneficial to all people. Some people feel better mentally and emotionally by relaxing and slowing down while others need more activity and stimulation.
Here are some steps to enhance your resilience:
- Learn to think positively through practice. Deliberately remind yourself of your achievements and acknowledge your successes
- Take each day and task as it comes. Concentrate on what you are able to do and control
- Approach situations with a clear understanding of your skills and strengths that can positively impact the outcome
- Learning to laugh at yourself is healthy
- Engage in healthy distractions such as hobbies and creative interests
- Seek and be open to constructive criticism. Feedback from the right source can help you understand how others see your actions and behaviours
- Build your own community by choosing or creating a supportive group that expands your network of connections and strengthens your identity. This might be a sport or hobby group, a service organization, a help group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or a professional association
Resiliency & Your Career
Increasing your resilience benefits your professional life. You will have
- A mindset that recognizes your career as a journey with inevitable ups and downs. You seek to be in control of your career, face the reality of today's workplace and remain confident that you can survive in the work world
- Strategies that focus your attention on clients or customers and leverage your skills to support your work unit's objectives. Your strategies will help you anticipate career disappointments and recognize career crossroads, knowing when it is time for you to move on
- Behaviours where you actively seek out feedback to enhance learning and develop or display your skills rather than passively waiting for recognition
- A sense of responsibility for how employable you are by keeping skills up to date and building alliances with others for information and support