We know that four million Australians will experience mental illness this year alone. Many more of us will be affected as family members, friends, colleagues or school mates. No longer can we consider mental illness to be a fringe issue affecting only a few. In fact, it affects us all.
A fresh new year presents a great opportunity to make plans and set goals for the 12 months ahead. It’s also a good time to focus on mental health and mental illness, reflect on how we are feeling and what we can do to look after ourselves now and in the future.
Being mentally healthy and living well is important to every single one of us – whether we are living with a mental illness or not. It’s about enjoying life and fulfilling your potential. It’s having the ability to cope with stresses and sadness, and it’s about being connected to friends, family, community and culture.
What I often hear from people is that mental health is a “specialist” area, requiring specialist input and action. And true, the treatment system does require specialists and those with training, but there is a lot we can all do for ourselves and those around us.
We all know that to keep a car going, we have to fill it with petrol, check the oil and water regularly and give the tires some air. To see a bank balance grow, we need to make steady deposits. But how often do we take the time to reflect on whether we are giving ourselves what we need to flourish and live well?
It can be so easy for us to take our mental health for granted; to prioritise other things; to put it off until next week. It can also seem too big and too hard. But it’s not. There are some things everyone can do and just like we can’t put off adding petrol to our car for another week, we shouldn’t put off our mental health till another time either.
What better time than the new year to give them a go?
Get enough sleep and rest. Sleep affects our physical and mental health, but can be the first thing we trade in when we get busy or stressed.
Take time out for things you enjoy. Balance in life is important, so taking time out for things you enjoy can make a difference to how you think and feel.
Be active and eat well. Our physical and mental health is closely linked, so adding exercise and nutritious food every day can make us feel better.
Nurture relationships and connect with others. Our connection to others is what builds us up and keeps us strong.
Learn to manage stress. If you have trouble winding down or managing thoughts you may find relaxation, yoga or writing your feelings down helpful.
Get involved and join in. Being part of a group with common interests provides a sense of belonging so find out about sporting, music, volunteer or community groups locally.
Build your confidence. Learning improves your mental fitness and taking on a new challenge can build confidence and give you a sense of achievement.
Be comfortable in your own skin. Everyone is unique and should be celebrated. Know who you are and what makes you happy.
Set realistic goals and deal with tasks one at a time. It is good to be specific when you set a goal to help keep you on track.
Reach out for help when you need it. Everyone needs support from time to time. Talking to a family member, a friend, your doctor or one of the many services available can make all the difference.
Mental health and wellbeing is important to individuals, families, schools, workplaces and communities. There is a role for all of us to play. So, what will you do differently this year for your mental health and wellbeing?