What is mental health and why is it important?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Emotional and mental health is important because it's a vital part of your life and impacts your thoughts, behaviours and emotions. Being healthy emotionally can promote productivity and effectiveness in activities like work, school or caregiving. It plays an important part in the health of your relationships, and allows you to adapt to changes in your life and cope with adversity.
Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behaviour could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
- Biological factors (such as genes or brain chemistry),
- Life experiences (such as trauma or abuse) and,
- Family history of mental health problems.
Mental health problems are common but help is available. People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.
How can you improve your emotional health day-to-day?
There are steps you can take to improve your mental health everyday. Small things like exercising, eating balanced and healthy meals, opening up to other people in your life, taking a break when you need to, remembering something you are grateful for and getting a good night's sleep, can be helpful in boosting your emotional health.
Issues related to mental health can impact different people in different ways. If you start to see changes in your overall happiness and relationships, there are always ways to get the support you want. Here are some ways you can get help:
- Connect with other individuals, friends and family — Reaching out and opening up to other people in your life can help provide emotional support.
- Learn more about mental health — There are many resources you can turn to for learning more about emotional health. Some examples include Psychology Today, National Institute of Mental Health, and Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
- Take a mental health assessment — An assessment can help determine if stress, anxiety or depression may be having an impact on your life. Doctor On Demand offers a free and private online mental health assessment that you can take at any time.
- Talk to a professional — If you start to feel like your emotional health is starting to impact you, it may be time to reach out for extra support. With Doctor On Demand, you can see a psychologist or psychiatrist and find the personalized support you want.
Early Warning Signs
Not sure if you or someone you know is living with mental health problems? Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviours can be an early warning sign of a problem:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little.
- Pulling away from people and usual activities.
- Having low or no energy.
- Feeling numb or like nothing happens.
- Having unexplained aches and pains.
- Feeling helpless or hopeless.
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual.
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared.
- Yelling or fighting with family and friends.
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.
- Having persistent thoughts and memories you can't get out of your head.
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true.
- Thinking of harming yourself or others.
- Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school.
Having strong mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.
People who are mentally healthy have:
- A sense of contentment.
- A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
- The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
- A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
- The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change.
- A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
- The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
Attaining a positive frame of mind allows people to realise their full potential and cope with the stresses of life and as a result leads to a more productive and meaningful personal, work and social lifestyle.
Why we often neglect our mental health needs
Even in today’s advanced world, many of us are often reluctant—or unable—to address our mental health needs. This can stem from a variety of reasons, including:
- In some societies, mental and emotional issues are seen as less legitimate than physical issues. They’re seen as a sign of weakness or somehow as being our own fault.
- Some people mistakenly see mental health problems as something we should know how to “snap out of.” Men, especially, would often rather bottle up their feelings than seek help.
- In our fast-paced world, we’re obsessed with seeking quick, simple answers to complex problems. We look for connection with others by compulsively checking social media instead of reaching out to people in the real world, for example. Or to boost our mood and ease depression, we’d rather pop a pill rather than tackle the underlying issues.
- Many people think that if they do seek help for mental and emotional problems, the only treatment options available are medication (which comes with unwanted side effects) or therapy (which can be lengthy and expensive). The truth is that, whatever your issues, there are steps you can take to improve the way you feel and experience greater mental and emotional well-being. And you can start today!
Attaining and maintaining positive mental health
Even if you currently have a good mental state, the struggles of life can change that at any point. That is why it's important to always look after your mental and emotional health and to stay informed on the different ways to improve or maintain a positive mind set. Some tips are:
- Getting professional help if you need it - there are numerous resources and classes held at set venues or online which are free to access.
- Connecting with others - several organisations, including the NHS, host one-to-one and group sessions for those wanting to reach out to others about their mental situation.
- Staying positive - appraoch situations with a can-do attitude and try to avoid looking at the negative side to things.
- Getting physically active - exercising can drastically change how someone sees themself and give them a boost of confidence and motivation.
- Helping others - even small, selfless acts can give you a rewarding feeling and make you feel as if you are contributing to society.
- Getting enough sleep - developing a regular sleeping routine can be vital in improving your overall performances in your life.
- Developing coping skills - these can vary from person to person but activities such as meditation can help you overcome certain negative emotions and feelings such as anxiety, stress, and depression and can make you feel generally calmer and composed.
Make social connection a priority—especially face-to-face
No matter how much time you devote to improving your mental and emotional health, you will still need the company of others to feel and function at your best. Humans are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections to others. We’re not meant to survive, let alone thrive, in isolation. Our social brains crave companionship—even when experience has made us shy and distrustful of others.
Phone calls and social networks have their place, but nothing can beat the stress-busting, mood-boosting power of quality face-to-face time with other people.
The key is to interact with someone who is a “good listener”—someone you can regularly talk to in person, who will listen to you without their own conceptions of how you should think or feel. A good listener will listen to the feelings behind your words, and won’t interrupt, judge, or criticize you.
Reaching out is not a sign of weakness and it won’t make you a burden to others. Most people are flattered if you trust them enough to confide in them. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, there are good ways to build new friendships and improve your support network. In the meantime, there is still a great benefit to interacting face-to-face with acquaintances or people you encounter during the day, such as neighbors, people in the checkout line or on the bus, or the person serving you your morning coffee. Make eye contact and exchange a smile, a friendly greeting, or small talk.
Staying active is as good for the brain as it is for the body
The mind and the body are intrinsically linked. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional well-being. Physical activity also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals that lift your mood and provide added energy. Regular exercise or activity can have a major impact on mental and emotional health problems, relieve stress, improve memory, and help you to sleep better.
But what if I hate to exercise? - Well, you’re not alone. Pounding weights in a gym or jogging on a treadmill isn’t everyone’s idea of a great time. But you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits of being more active. Take a walk at lunchtime through a park, walk laps in an air-conditioned mall while window shopping, throw a Frisbee with a dog, dance to your favorite music, play activity-based video games with your kids, cycle or walk to an appointment rather than drive.
You don’t have to exercise until you’re soaked in sweat or every muscle aches. Even modest amounts of physical activity can make a big difference to your mental and emotional health—and it’s something you can engage in right now to boost your energy and outlook and help you regain a sense of control.
Tips for starting an exercise routine
- Aim for 30 minutes of activity on most days. If it’s easier, three 10-minute sessions can be just as effective. Start now by taking a walk or dancing to a favorite song.
- Try rhythmic exercise that engages both your arms and legs, such as walking, running, swimming, weight training, martial arts, or dancing.
- Add a mindfulness element to your workouts. Instead of focusing on your thoughts, focus on how your body feels as you move—how your feet hit the ground, for example, the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of wind on your skin.
Learn how to keep your stress levels in check
Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you brings things back into balance.
Talk to a friendly face. Face-to-face social interaction with someone who cares about you is the most effective way to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Interacting with another person can quickly put the brakes on damaging stress responses like “fight-or-flight.” It also releases stress-busting hormones, so you’ll feel better even if you’re unable to alter the stressful situation itself.
Appeal to your senses. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee or a favorite scent? Or maybe squeezing a stress ball works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so start experimenting now to find what works best for you. Once you discover how your nervous system responds to sensory input, you’ll be able to quickly calm yourself no matter where or when stress hits.
Make leisure time a priority. Partake in your favorite activities for no reason other than that they make you feel good. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.
Make time for contemplation and appreciation. Think about the things you’re grateful for. Mediate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.
Take up a relaxation practice. While sensory input can relieve stress in the moment, relaxation techniques can help reduce your overall levels of stress—although they’re likely to take more time to learn effectively. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can put the brakes on stress and bring your mind and body back into a state of balance.
Eat a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health
Unless you’ve tried to change your diet in the past, you may not be aware how much of what you eat—and don’t eat—affects the way you think and feel. An unhealthy diet can take a toll on your brain and mood, disrupt your sleep, sap your energy, and weaken your immune system. Conversely, switching to a wholesome diet, low in sugar and rich in healthy fats, can give you more energy, improve your sleep and mood, and help you to look and feel your best.
People respond slightly differently to certain foods, depending on genetics and other health factors, so experiment with how the food you include in—or cut from—your diet changes the way you feel. The best place to start is by cutting out the “bad fats” that can damage your mood and outlook, and replace them with “good fats” that support brain-health.
Foods that adversely affect mood
- Trans fats or anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil
- Foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones
- Sugary snacks
- Refined carbs (such as white rice or white flour)
- Fried food
Foods that boost mood
- Fatty fish rich in Omega-3s such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna
- Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts
- Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Brussel’s sprouts
- Fresh fruit such as blueberries
Don’t skimp on sleep — it matters more than you think
If you lead a busy life, cutting back on sleep may seem like a smart move. But when it comes to your mental health, getting enough sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Skipping even a few hours here and there can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. And over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on your health and outlook.
While adults should aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night, it’s often unrealistic to expect sleep to come the moment you lay down and close your eyes. Your brain needs time to unwind at the end of the day. That means taking a break from the stimulation of screens—TV, phone, tablet, computer—in the two hours before bedtime, putting aside work, and postponing arguments, worrying, or brainstorming until the next day.
Tips for getting better sleep
- If anxiety or chronic worrying dominates your thoughts at night, there are steps you can take to learn how to stop worrying.
- To wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep, try taking a warm bath, reading by a soft light, listening to soothing music, or practicing a relaxation technique before bed.
- To help set your body’s internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep, stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet. Curtains, white noise machines, and fans can help.
Find purpose and meaning in life
Everyone derives meaning and purpose in different ways that involve benefitting others, as well as yourself. You may think of it as a way to feel needed, feel good about yourself, a purpose that drives you on, or simply a reason to get out of bed in the morning. In biological terms, finding meaning and purpose is essential to brain health as it can help generate new cells and create new neural pathways in the brain. It can also strengthen your immune system, alleviate pain, relieve stress, and keep you motivated to pursue the other steps to improve mental and emotional health. However you derive meaning and purpose in life, it’s important to do it every day.
What gives you meaning and purpose?
Engaging in work that provides meaning to yourself and others. Partake in activities that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive, whether or not you get paid for them. Some ideas are gardening, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, or building something in your workshop.
Relationships. Spending quality time with yourself and to the people who matter to you - whether they’re friends, grandkids, or elderly relatives - they can support both your health and theirs, while also providing a sense of purpose.
Caring for a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for one makes you feel needed and loved. There’s no love quite as unconditional as the love a pet can give. Animals can also get you out of the house for exercise and expose you to new people and places.
Volunteering. Just as we’re hard-wired to be social, we’re also hard-wired to give to others. The meaning and purpose derived from helping others or the community can enrich and expand your life—and make you happier. There’s no limit to the individual and group volunteer opportunities you can explore. Schools, churches, nonprofits, and charitable organizations of all sorts depend on volunteers for their survival.
Caregiving. Taking care of an aging parent, a handicapped spouse, or a child with a physical or mental illness is an act of kindness, love, and loyalty—and can be as rewarding and meaningful as it is challenging.
When to seek professional help
If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and still aren’t functioning optimally at home, work, or in your relationships, it may be time to seek professional help. Following these self-help steps will still benefit you, though. In fact, input from a caring professional can often help motivate us to take better care of ourselves.
Mental Health Services
As many as one in four people will experience some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. If you are experiencing mental health problems it is important to know that you are not alone and there is plenty of help out there to improve your mental well-being.
A good starting point to finding out about local health services is Health Help Now, a free website and app. You can access the website here or download the app from the App Store or Google Play, free of charge.
Mental health services in Croydon
The CCG has produced a simple triangle diagram to highlight the different mental health services available in Croydon and the various points of entry for patients.
Talking Therapies (IAPT)
The main provider of mental health care in Croydon is South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) - who deliver talking therapy services.
The Croydon IAPT Psychological Therapies Service is a free confidential service that supports adults aged 18 years and over who are experiencing low mood, depression and anxiety. You can self-refer to these services and do not need to be referred by a GP. You can find out more about the service and if it would be suitable for you on the IAPT website.
For Croydon residents aged between 14-25 years, the Off the Record organisation offers free confidential help.
SLaM also provide a wide range of health services and your GP can refer you for specialist services and assessment.
Emergency mental health services
In an emergency, if your GP surgery is closed, go to a hospital's A&E desk and ask to see the psychiatrist on duty.
A 24-hour mental health telephone support line is available for people in Croydon who are experiencing mental distress. The helpline can be used by patients, carers and anyone who needs advice, help and assistance while in crisis or facing difficulties dealing with mental illness.
The free phone number is 0800 731 2864 and this is a single point of contact for people living in Croydon, Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham.
Other mental health services in Croydon
Social networking service
Studies show that feeling isolated and unable to make connections with others has a negative impact on mental health.
Mind in Croydon's Social Networking Service provides support for people who are experiencing or recovering from mental health problems to engage in activities in the community as part of their recovery. These include activities relating to sport and exercise, family and neighbourhood, faith and cultural communities, education and arts and culture.
Referrals to this service are made via your community mental health team. Referral forms and more details can be found on the Mind in Croydon website.
The Hub at Fairfield
The Hub at Fairfield supports people to understand and manage their mental and physical health issues. The Hub provides a safe place for people who are lonely and isolated to meet and socialise with others and a place for them to receive practical help and advice. It is open on Wednesday and Saturday between 10am until 5pm.
To access this service, you must be referred by a health or social care professional so speak to your GP if you think you would benefit from this service. The service is for adults aged 18-65 with a mental health problem.
The hub aims to help people with practical support including:
- Form filling
- Benefit issues
- Managing bills and debt
- Outreach support
- Community issues (issues with neighbours)
More details about the service can be found on the Mind in Croydon website.
Directory of mental health services and support in Croydon
A full directory of mental health services and support available in Croydon can be found on the MIND in Croydon website.
Whether you are suffering from mental health difficulties yourself, or you have a friend or family member who is struggling, you can use this directory to find support. You can search alphabetically, by category or by target group.
The Mind in Croydon website also provides details about other types of support that the charity can provide for people with a mental health problem. This includes:
For more information on mental health and self-help services available at our practice and in the surrounding area of Croydon then please click here!
The following links contain further educational material and resources on mental health:
- Counselling, Support Groups and other Mental Health Services Directory