Editorial | Mental health and mental wealth

By Lloyd D’Castro, Psychologist – Working Life

This year 10 October was World Mental Health Day, a day with increasing importance as we become more aware of our wellbeing both outside the workplace, and within it.

To begin with, it’s important to define the difference between mental health and mental illness.

The World Health Organisation’ (WHO) defines mental health as:

“… 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 focusses on the positive aspects of mental health as opposed to focusing purely on the absence of illness or stigma. This is important to recognise as it’s a common misconception that mental health is purely an absence of illness.

So if this is mental health, what is mental illness?

Importantly, these are diagnosable conditions, diagnosed by a GP, Psychologist or Psychiatrist.

Mental illness is defined as “a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behaviour or thinking.” While most people will probably experience mental health issues at some point in their lives, fewer people are likely to suffer from mental illnesses.

Mental Illness includes a wide range of conditions that affect how we feel and think. Most of these are first experienced in a person’s late teens or early 20’s, but some emerge later in life. Like many physical illnesses they are thought to arise from the interaction of genetic vulnerability and stresses in life.

The more common illnesses in Australia are anxiety and depressive disorders, as well as less common but more severe conditions such as schizophrenia and other forms of psychotic illnesses.

Mental Illnesses vary in how long they affect people, they could be a single episode, or a lifelong condition.

Workplaces can play their part in supporting those with Mental Health or Mental Illness by reducing stigma and increasing an individual’s comfort about willingness to disclose

These concepts must be considered side by side, because as we move towards feeling safe about disclosing, we end up with less stigma.

But mental health isn’t just about dealing with negative emotions, it’s also about having the tools stay well, and become mentally stronger.

PERMA is the branch of Psychology concerned with Wellbeing – it has five pillars of Mental Health.

Positive Emotion

This element is, perhaps, the most obvious connection to happiness. Focusing on positive emotions is the ability to remain optimistic and view one’s past, present, and future from a constructive perspective.

Engagement

Activities that meet our need for engagement flood the body with positive neurotransmitters and hormones that elevate a sense of well-being. This engagement helps us remain present, as well as synthesize the activities where we find calm, focus, and joy. 

People find enjoyment in different things, whether it’s playing an instrument, playing a sport, dancing, working on an interesting project at work or even just a hobby.

When time truly “flies by” during an activity, it is likely because the people involved were experiencing this sense of engagement.

Relationships

Relationships and social connections are crucial to meaningful lives.

Too often, the pursuit of happiness has this Western bias of “individuality” where each person steers their personal happiness ship to shore. This is not realistic. We are social animals who are hard-wired to bond and depend on other humans. Hence, the basic need for healthy relationships. 

Positive relationships with one’s parents, siblings, peers, co-workers, and friends is a key ingredient to overall joy. Strong relationships also provide support in difficult times that require resilience

Meaning

Religion and spirituality provide many people with meaning, as can working for a good company, raising children, volunteering for a greater cause, and expressing ourselves creatively. 

Understanding the impact of your work and why you chose to “show up at the office” may help you enjoy the tasks and become more satisfied with what you do. Whether you work in an office or not, think of what you spend most of your time doing. What does that activity provide you with?

Accomplishments

Having goals and ambition in life can help us to achieve things that can give us a sense of accomplishment. You should make realistic goals that can be met, and just putting in the effort to achieving those goals can give you a sense of satisfaction.

How to apply PERMA in your life

  1. Adopt a positive perspective as often as you can
  2. Find things that make you happy and engaged
  3. Focus on your relationship with family and friends and find ways to connect
  4. Search for meaning and lead a life of purpose
  5. Savour your accomplishments and strive for further achievement

The value of sleep and physical activity can never be underestimated, but the most important thing to remember is that it’s always okay to seek help. Whether you’re feeling well or not, it’s never a bad time to reach out.


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