What is mental health?
‘Hi, how are you doing?’
‘I’m good thanks, glad it’s the weekend. You?’
‘Not great actually; it just feels like everything I do goes wrong.’
This conversation is about mental health. Mental health is about the way you think and feel and your ability to deal with ups and downs.
Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental health problem. If you have good mental health, you can:
- Achieve your potential
- Cope with the normal stresses of life
- Play a full part in your family, workplace, community, and among friends
- Reach out for help when you need it
Some people call mental health ‘emotional health’ or ‘wellbeing’.
Mental health is everyone’s business
We all have times when we feel down, stressed or frightened. Most of the time those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into a more serious problem, and this could happen to any one of us.
Everyone is different. You may bounce back from a setback, while someone else may feel weighed down by it for a long time.
Your mental health doesn’t always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages in your life.
Unfortunately, stigma can be attached to mental health problems. This means that people feel uncomfortable about them and don’t talk about them much. Many people don’t even feel comfortable talking about their feelings. But it’s healthy to know and say how you’re feeling.
What is stigma? Why is it a problem?
Stigma is when someone, or even you yourself, views a person in a negative way just because they have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as a feeling of shame or judgement from someone else. Stigma can even come from an internal place, confusing feeling bad with being bad.
Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well. Learning how to avoid and address stigma are important for all of us, especially when you realize stigma’s effects:
- People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult.
- Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States.
- Even though most people can be successfully treated, less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need.
- The average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans.
One in 5 Americans is affected by mental health conditions. Stigma is toxic to their mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment. The perception of mental illness won’t change unless we act to change it.
Stigma is 100% curable. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote. Your voice can spread the cure. Join NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Visit https://www.nami.org/ for more.
What works to help build and maintain mental health?
Talk about your feelings
Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.
Talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.
Talking can be a way to cope with a problem or experience you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Feeling listened to can help you feel more supported. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same.
It’s not always easy to describe how you’re feeling. If you can’t think of one word, use lots. What does it feel like inside your head? What does it make you feel like doing?
You don’t need to sit your loved ones down for a big conversation about your wellbeing. Many people feel more comfortable when these conversations develop naturally – maybe when you’re doing something together. If it feels awkward at first, give it time. Make talking about your feelings something that you do.
Regular movement can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and look and feel better. Movement of all sorts (yoga, walking, sports, etc.) keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy, and is also a significant benefit towards improving your mental health. Visit our friends at the Physically Health Collaborative Action Network for ideas: https://nekprosper.org/outcomes/physically-healthy/
‘I get a huge lift from my Pilates class. Hours later, my legs ache, but I’m still smiling.’
Exercising doesn’t just mean doing sport or going to the gym. Walks in the park, gardening or housework can also keep you active. Experts say that most people should do about 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week. Try to make physical activity that you enjoy a part of your day.
‘It’s increased my confidence, as I’ve proved to myself that I can do things, and I’m also much fitter and have lost weight. We always have a lot of fun.’
What we eat may affect how we feel – for example, caffeine and sugar can have an immediate effect.
But food can also have a long-lasting effect on your mental health. Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health. A healthy, balanced diet includes:
- Lots of different types of fruit and vegetables
- Wholegrain cereals or bread
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy products
- Oily fish
- Plenty of water
Three meals a day or five smaller snacks throughout the day, plus plenty of water, is ideal for maintaining good mental health. Try to limit how many high- caffeine, sugary drinks or how much alcohol you have. Visit our friends at the Well-nourished Collaborative Action Network for ideas: https://nekprosper.org/outcomes/well-nourished/
We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary.
When the drink wears off, you feel worse because of the way the alcohol has affected your brain and the rest of your body. .
Apart from the damage that too much alcohol can do to your body, you would need more and more alcohol each time to feel the same. This is called building ‘tolerance’ to the substance. The approaches on this webpage are healthier ways of coping with tough times.
Occasional light drinking is perfectly healthy and enjoyable for most adults. Stay within the recommended daily alcohol limits:
- Three to four units a day for men
- Two to three units a day for women
Many people smoke or use drugs or other substances to change how they feel. But, again, the effects are short-lived. Just like alcohol, the more you use, the more you crave. Nicotine and drugs don’t deal with the causes of difficult feelings. They don’t solve problems.
Kingdom Recovery Center
297 Summer Street St. Johnsbury, VT
Northeast Kingdom Human Services
2225 Portland Street St. Johnsbury, VT
Parent Up VT for teen substance abuse and mental health resources: https://parentupvt.org/
Keep in touch
Strong family ties and supportive friends can help you deal with the stresses of life.
Friends and family can make you feel included and cared for. They can offer different views from whatever’s going on inside your own head. They can help keep you active, keep you grounded and can help you solve practical problems.
There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face to face, but that’s not always possible. You can also give them a call, drop them a note, or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open: it’s good for you!
If you’re feeling out of touch with some people, look back at the section on talking about your feelings and get started!
It’s worth working at relationships that make you feel loved or valued. But, if you think being around someone is damaging your mental health, it may be best to take a break from them or call it a day completely. It’s possible to end a relationship in a way that feels okay for both of you.
It can be hard to cope when someone close to you dies or if you lose them in another way. Counseling for bereavement or loss can help you explore your feelings. Visit our friends at Northeast Vermont Suicide Helping Hands for a resource booklet with therapists and counselors in Northern Vermont.
‘Just chilling with friends destresses me. We laugh and I feel good.’
Ask for help
None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things don’t go to plan.
If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear. Local services are there to help you. For example, you could:
- Join a support group, like Alcoholics Anonymous ((802) 334-1213 – St. Johnsbury & NEK) or Narcotics Anonymous, to help you make changes to your life,
- Find a counselor to help you manage your feelings (https://www.northeastvermontsuicidehelpinghands.com/) ,
- Visit your Primary Care Provider’s office who may have a counselor on site or would be able to refer you to a counselor. Your Primary Care Provider’s office may also have care coordinators or other staff who can help with concrete needs like insurance and transportation,
- Contact your church or place of worship, or
- Text VT to 741741 or Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to speak with professional, confidential supports 24/7.
Take a break
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.
Taking a break may mean being very active. It may mean not doing very much at all. Take a deep breath… and relax. Try yoga or meditation, or just putting your feet up.
Listen to your body. If you’re really tired, give yourself time to sleep. Without good sleep, our mental health suffers and our concentration goes downhill. Sometimes the world can wait. Visit our friends at the Mental Health Foundation for free relaxation podcasts.
Do something you’re good at
What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past? Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem. Concentrating on a hobby like gardening, playing the guitar or doing crosswords, can help you forget your worries for a while and can change your mood.
It can be good to have an interest where you’re not seen as someone’s mom or dad, partner or employee. You’re just you. An hour of sketching lets you express yourself creatively. A morning on the soccer field gets you active and gives you the chance to meet new people.
‘I’m learning the guitar. You have to really concentrate on getting it right so there’s no room in my head for worries.’
Accept who you are
Some of us make people laugh, some are good at math, and others cook fantastic meals.
Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live very differently.
We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else. Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends. Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.
Be proud of who you are. Recognize and accept the things you may not be good at, but also focus on what you can do well. If there’s anything about yourself you would like to change, are your expectations realistic? If they are, work towards the change in small steps.
‘Being happy with who I am now means I enjoy living in the moment.’
Care for others
Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.
Why not share your skills more widely by volunteering for a local charity? Helping out can make us feel needed and valued, and that boosts our self-esteem. It also helps us to see the world from another angle. This can help to put our own problems in perspective. Visit the Green Mountain United Way’s Volunteer Connection webpage to find opportunities: https://gmunitedway.galaxydigital.com/need/
Caring for a pet can improve your wellbeing too. The bond between you and your pet can be as strong as between people. Looking after a pet can bring structure to your day and can act as a link to other people. For example, some people make friends by chatting to fellow dog walkers or fellow pet shelter volunteers. Visit our friends at Kingdom Animal Shelter to find out about volunteering with cats or adopting one in need of a home.
‘Friends are really important… We help each other whenever we can, so it’s a two-way street, and supporting them uplifts me.’
Support and information
Find out more about local resources including:
- Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid Training: Contact Cheryl Chandler at 748.7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Community Mental Health Services and QPR Suicide Awareness and Prevention Gatekeeper Training: Contact Terri Lavely at 748.6350 x1111 or email@example.com
- Northern Counties Health Care: Contact Laurie Somers at 748.9405 x1506 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Community Connections: Call 748.7526 or visit the webpage here
- NAMI Vermont (a statewide volunteer organization comprised of family members, friends, and individuals living with a mental illness) webpage here
Who we are
The PositiveBalance Mentally Healthy Collaborative Action Network is a group of partners and organizations working together so that every individual in the Northeast Kingdom is mentally healthy so that she or he may:
- realize her or his own potential,
- cope with the normal stresses of life,
- work productively and fruitfully,
- make a contribution to her or his community,
- feel okay reaching out for help when times get tough, and
- know where and how to reach out for help.
Adapted from the Mental Health Foundation