I was asked by a journalist recently (for a piece the Irish Examiner will publish on my work on 11 January 2019) what are my key recommendations for developing sound mental health. Here goes with my tips in order of importance, and I think each of them is eminently doable. But I’m sure that not everybody reading this piece will agree with the list or the ordering – but I look forward to hearing from you as to what you would change!
- Let others hear your story
Being listened to is a critical component in effective mental health. It is essential to be involved in an effective listening environment where you can vocalise and hear your thoughts e.g. being part of a support group or working with a psychotherapist/counsellor. My experience is that something that we think about with concern will frequently seem and feel different once spoken to somebody else.
- Nutrition and Exercise
Nutrition is so often overlooked when it comes to mental health. The link between the brain and our gut is well researched with the most exciting contemporary research in this area coming from Cork’s own APC in UCC (http://apc.ucc.ie/). Looking after the health & diversity of our gut microbiome with a varied, natural wholefoods diet can have a direct effect on our mood & mental health. There is also a close link between exercise and effective mental health (https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise), so working on improving nutrition and exercise in tandem is a very sensible approach.
- Build your resilience in order to better cope with challenges and be able to bounce back
Research evidence shows that behavioural training techniques such as mindfulness meditation can help with the management of mental health conditions (such as anxiety, depression, addiction etc) (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a450/f4a7bdd17349219017898ffa8877f13ac348.pdf. Cognitive techniques such as structured problem solving may also be useful in changing the way you think.
- Stay close to your local General Practitioner
It is critical to keep close to your GP as you work on improving your mental health. It nothing else, a doctor will be able to identify or exclude ‘organic’ factors associated with a mental health challenge, and also identify recommended changes in nutritiona and exercise levels (this happened to me only recently ahead of going back to road running). A doctor will also be able to provide more information on appropriate medication, where necessary, which can prove to be highly effective when combined with talking therapies.