What can I do to keep my mental health in tip-top shape?


What can I do to keep my mental health in tip-top shape? FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

My family has a history of mood disorders or mental health issues. What can I do to keep my mental health in tip-top shape?

Since you have not told us how old you are, we will provide you with two answers to your question.

The first is easy to relate to in the sense that all must depend on your current age.

If, for example, you are a 10-year-old in a primary school, your mental health challenges would in all probability be different from those of a 70-year-old grandfather who has a long history of heavy alcohol use, is diabetic and has hypertension.

The 10-year-old would if they had a mental health need, exhibit conditions such as anxiety sometimes due to conditions of the school or home.

Bullying, reading difficulties and poor eyesight, as well as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), are some of the challenges of the children in this age group.

If, for example, one or other of the parents have a chronic medical condition, the child might be afraid of going to school (leaving a parent who might in the child’s mind die) and thereby feign abdominal pain or even a headache to skip school that day to be close to the sick parent.

At the other extreme of life, a grandfather who is in the early stages of dementia might have to be advised to exercise regularly and to control his weight to stay mentally healthier.

Even at this seemingly late age, physical fitness is good for the old person. Your age is critical in knowing how to stay healthy.

Between these two extremes, are teenagers and their parents who might be in their forties.

For teenagers, a sensitive approach would involve teaching/learning several skills, including how to deal with increasing school and examination challenges, problem-solving skills, especially in relationships, as well as the ways in which they can deal with peer pressure that can be extreme in this stage of their life.

The challenges of adolescence include the early detection and treatment of common conditions at this age and which often manifest as difficulties in the classroom and at other times as disciplinary problems.

Knowing some of these things is essential if one is to maintain good mental health.

A boy or girl whose school performance suddenly deteriorates must be examined for depression, anxiety, ADHD or the effects of any other common mental disorder of adolescence.

Sensitization of teachers and parents is an important strategy of the prevention of complications.

Awareness of the stress from marital problems that can lead to depression in some cases is important because it might affect both the parents and their offspring.

Menopause is another often forgotten stage in life about which a great deal has to be learnt for the prevention of later mental problems.

As you can see, there is not one set of things you can do to remain mentally healthy, but there are some general rules you might find helpful.

The first and perhaps most important is to remain informed on matters of mental health from reliable websites.

The Web MD, Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the Chiromo Hospital Group websites are good places to start.

Regular exercise is as important to the body as it is for your mental health. A healthy diet is also good for your mental health, and in this regard avoidance of the excess use of alcohol and avoidance of all illicit drugs is another preventative strategy.

The practice of good sleep hygiene is an understated strategy for good mental health. Therefore, even as you practice exercise and a good diet, you should make a similar effort to improve your sleep habits.

Self-care is not the same thing as selfishness, and you must appreciate that you can only look after others (including your family) if you have first looked after yourself. Spend time looking after yourself without feeling guilty about it.

For the elderly, loneliness has recently been shown to be a major cause of early death. For this reason, it is wise to stay connected with the family and the community.

You cannot wait until your sixties to begin going to your local church and hope to get the same level of connectedness as your sister who has been with the Mothers’ Union since her late twenties.

At an early age, it might be a good thing to have a conference with yourself to agree on what are your priorities in life, how you intend to achieve them and how you will know that you have achieved them.

As you can see from the foregoing, the path to good mental health, whether you have a family history or not is different for different people but in all cases requires that you take charge.

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