The usage of the word “Mental Health” has been more common in the recent past, than it ever was. Awareness regarding this has also increased significantly. However, there definitely is a lot left to be achieved in terms of helping people gain better awareness as well as reaching out to more people. But what actually is Mental Health? Well, it is a widely debated term, and it has several connotations attached to it. But before we discuss mental health, let’s discuss the term “mental illness”. A mental illness is a condition that affects a person's thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone's ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person may have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis. The Mental Healthcare Bill, passed in 2016, defines it as a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs. 

Though the term “mental illness” is well defined,what comes under the purview of “mental health” is varied, and there are a lot more factors associated here. Mental health is understood differently by different entities. For instance, WHO considers mental health as something much more than the mere absence of mental illness. So,according to the WHO, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” This definition, if you take note,focused on the positive aspects of one’s functioning. Terms like ‘positive mental health’, ‘mental well being’, ‘subjective well being’ and even ‘happiness’have been proposed by various people to emphasise that mental health is about wellness rather than illness. While some say that such an approach adds further confusion, others say that it is very much beneficial. But please note that just because someone is not experiencing a mental health condition doesn’t necessarily mean their mental health is flourishing. Similarly, it’s possible to be diagnosed with a mental health condition while feeling well in many aspects of life.

Historically speaking, people with mental illnesses were initially shunned by the society, or were put in stigmatized institutions where they were isolated or treated cruelly. However, things are changing nowadays, and the idea of being humane to people with mental health problems is being given more importance. Ideas like “deinstitutionalization” and “community mental health” are gaining widespread acknowledgement, and is a movement towards a holistic treatment with emphasis on recovery as well as development of social,occupational and vocational skills. Plus, people are now being treated in Out Patient settings as well, with support from people’s social and familial circles. Unfortunately, there exist places in India as well as different parts of the world where people are not being treated properly, and are still kept in miserable inhuman conditions. Please do not let anyone fall prey to places where no respect is given to someone with a mental health problem.

Now, what actually comes under the purview of mental health problems? 

There can be varied problems and symptomatologies which can be a cause for concern such as depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, somatoform disorders, psychotic disorders etc. If one notices any signs of distress or any abnormal behaviors such as changes in day-to-day behaviors, mood, eating, sleeping, attitude towards life etc., seek help immediately. Even if a person does not have a disorder that falls into any of the categories of these disorders or illnesses, but one still feels that they are experiencing distress, need help with their day to day life’s challenges, or stressors or any difficulties, they should not hesitate to go to counsellors or other mental health professionals for help.

Now, one role of mental health professional is to help a client get rid of one’s mental illness. But is that enough? What about enhancing one’s mental health? 

Unfortunately, many end up neglecting this, and just focus on symptom reduction. So, what can be done to enhance one’s positive mental health? One is to obviously use different psychotherapies and medications to help one overcome their problems. Additionally, what is actually upcoming in the therapy research circle is something called “Positive Psychotherapy”, the techniques of which help one enhance one’s strengths and in the process, one’s mental well-being. This can be used to enhance one’s positive skills, hope, optimism, purpose in life, life-satisfaction etc. These should more often be used by therapists in therapeutic settings.

Also, something important therapists should do is make recommendations for lifestyle changes such as changes in eating,sleeping, drinking, fitness etc. Without these, one’s well-being really won’t be adequate.  So, mental health professionals who work together, and target the biological, psychological and social aspects of one’s health would be considered the best fit for most people.

Now, in general, what can one do while sitting at home? 

Well, let me give you some activities that you can perform on yourself. But remember to perform these religiously. 

  • Firstly,work on reframing your negative thoughts into positive ones. Try and look a teach negativity from a realistic yet positive perspective. Regularly thinking this way, and replacing negative thoughts with realistic positive ones in itself will induce positivity in a person. Additionally, make attempts to add more positive thoughts in your daily life by practicing positive affirmations.
  • Write or just regularly repeat affirmations that you feel will help you. Add a gratitude journal to your daily schedule, so that you can express your gratitude to your friends as well as enemies, and take note of all the good things that happened in your day.  
  • Be optimistic, yet realistic. Set realistic goals for yourself. Create and follow a schedule or a timetable for yourself. Plus, you can also create a positive activity schedule, focusing on doing things that will make you happy on a daily basis, whilst keeping track of them. Having a good social circle is also extremely essential. Purge out people who may be harming you in any way, and seek help for any social difficulties that you may be facing. 
  • Try to accept the past and focus on the present. Forgive people who harmed you, and try to move on. Find, discover and explore things that might give you a sense of purpose in your life. Only you know what that is, and if you have found a sense of purpose, that’s amazing! If not, the process of exploring in itself will give you purpose. 
  • Additionally, a good and rich diet filled with all the essential nutrients is recommended. Have a rainbow diet, which means including food items such as fruits and vegetables of all colors of the rainbow on a regular basis. Also, some essential nutrients and food items for enhancing one’s mental health include, Omega-3 fatty acid rich foods like walnut and fish oil, sources of lean protein like beans, eggs,chicken etc., green leafy vegetables,  whole grains, bananas, and fermented food like yogurt and other probiotics.  
  • Don’t forget to rest well, and get a good night's sleep. Relax but also remember to keep yourself occupied most of the time. This will help you become a lot more productive throughout the day. 
  • Exercise regularly, and try to stay fit. Exercising is a major key to help one feel good,feel less stressed out and boost one’s esteem. Also, perform fun yet mentally stimulating tasks that will help your brain stay young and active and help break the monotony of daily living. Just do what you love. And don’t forget to keep doodling! 

These are just general ways to help one stay mentally healthy. But in case you face some major difficulties, remember to get help from qualified professionals such as registered psychiatrists and licensed clinical psychologists. Other helpers include mental health nurses, psychiatric social workers, counselors and other mental health assistants.

Remember, overcoming distress or difficulty is not the only important aspect in one’s life. Also important is to stay mentally healthy, and enhance one’s well-being, hope, life satisfaction and happiness. Mental Illnesses can affect anyone. So, never be ashamed to consult a mental health professional who will help you overcome your problems as well enhance your mental health.