By Hermoine Macura-Noble
Special to The Times Kuwait

The Covid 19 pandemic saw depression and suicide rates skyrocket across the world – drawing attention to the importance of mental health and how self-care is so important in today’s ever-changing world.

Vital at every stage of life, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our mental health affects how we think, feel, and act and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Counselling Psychologist at the Human Relations Institute, Hima Merin Mammen explains more. “Simply put, it’s the well-being of self…. Mental health gives room to address the individual experience. Quality of life, relationships, self-awareness and self-care are some lenses through which people measure or begin to understand their own mental health. Addressing mental health concerns support an individual in their wellbeing and growth.”

Experts say that many factors contribute to mental health problems and sometimes it’s as simple as a struggle with change or a stressful job or relationship. However, it can also include biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, life experiences, such as trauma or abuse and even a family history of mental health problems.

Research is starting to uncover the complicated cause of these diseases which may also include medical conditions like heart disease. The two most common mental health conditions are: anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress, obsessive compulsive disorders, panic attacks and phobias. The other is mood disorders such as depression. It’s important to know the difference between sadness and depression as well and not to confuse the two.

“Sadness is a low mood and is most often a reaction to an unpleasant event. Clinical depression is a cluster of symptoms that occur consistently over a specific period of time that interrupts a person’s daily functioning. It causes a person to feel low and depleted almost perpetually,” explains Mammen.

Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors such as eating or sleeping too much or too little, pulling away from people and usual activities, having low or no energy, having unexplained aches and feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared are just some of the early warning signs.

Other warning signs include yelling or fighting with family and friends, experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships and thinking of harming yourself or others.

Sadly, psychological distress among people of all ages seems to be rising and research shows that while mental illnesses are common across the world, only half of people suffering with mental illness receive treatment due to the stigma associated with mental health.

According to the latest State of the World’s Children report, published by United Nations charity UNICEF – Anxiety and depression constitute more than 40% of mental-health disorders among young people.

UNICEF also reports that, worldwide, suicide is the fourth most-common cause of death (after road injuries, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence) among adolescents under 20 years old. In eastern Europe and central Asia, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people in that age group — and it’s the second-highest cause in western Europe and North America.

There’s also initial evidence that the pandemic exacerbated this trend in some countries. In a nationwide study from Iceland, young people reported more symptoms of mental ill health during the pandemic than did their peers before it. And girls were more likely to experience these symptoms than were boys.

So how can one family and friends help someone experiencing a mental health difficulty? Mammen shares simple steps on what one can do. “Be available to listen to your loved ones and stay consistent with your presence if that is what they need. Not rushing to solve their problems but allowing them to lead the conversation and giving them the assurance that they are loved and needed is important….Also, getting them connected to a mental health professional and giving them hope is also important,” adds Mammen.

Other good news is that researchers have also found that improving your cognitive and interpersonal skills can also be more effective in preventing and treating anxiety and depression under certain circumstances — although the reason for this is not known.

Other ways to maintain positive mental health include – getting professional help if you need it, connecting with others, staying positive, getting physically active, helping others, getting enough sleep, and developing coping skills. Below are 10 practical ways to look after your mental health and those around you:

1. Talk about your feelings

Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.

2. Keep active

Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Exercise keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy.

3. Eat well

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.

4. Drink sensibly

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.

5. Keep in touch

There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face to face, but that’s not always possible. Whatever you do, try to keep the lines of communication open: it’s good for you!

6. Ask for help

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 as well.

7. Take a break

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.

8. Do something you’re good at

Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem.

9. Accept who you are

Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.

10. 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.

Whatever you choose to do, it’s important to introduce a self-care routine into your life and make self-care a priority. “Self-care is not as a remedy or reward but a purposeful routine. It’s important to take time out to do the things you enjoy cushioning the effect of daily stressors,” concludes Mammen.

By Hermoine Macura-Noble
The first Australian English speaking News Anchor in the Middle East. She is also the Author of Faces of the Middle East and Founder of US-based 501c3 charity – The House of Rest which helps to ease the suffering of victims of war. For more from our Contributing Editor, you can follow her on Instagram, here.

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