Your Mental Health: are you surviving or thriving?

It's Mental Health Awareness Week (May 8th-14th #MHAW17) and the theme this year is “Surviving or Thriving?” The focus is on mental health as being not just about the absence of mental health problems but our right to a state of wellbeing and contentment. In this guest blog, Emma Marks looks at questions we all need to be asking ourselves about our mental health.

What do the words “mental health” conjure up to you when you hear them? More than likely you might picture someone in distress,  perhaps someone who is violent? You might feel awkward or unsure of the words and what they actually mean? Or, if you yourself have been touched by mental health problems either in person or by someone you know or care about, it might make you think of sad and troubling times and it may even give you a feeling of fear and anxiety.

However it may surprise you to know that we all have mental health. No not mental health problems (which is probably what you might have been thinking of ) but mental health. Just like we can all have physical health we can all have mental health. However we are still not comfortable with the term mental health, we would far rather talk in softer perhaps more fluffy terms like “wellbeing” or “emotional health”. I don't think this has helped us to understand how important it is for us to be aware of our own mental health and that of our friends and family.

One of the first things I say to people when I run “Wellbeing and resilience” courses is the importance of being aware of their own mental health. This doesn’t have to be anything onerous or complicated. It can be as simple as scoring how you feel on a scale of 1-10 (10 being very good and 1 being awful). Once you get into the habit of reflecting on your emotional health you are then able to move onto the next stage of identifying what it is that you can do to enable you to get to the higher end of the scale rather than the lower end.

There seems to be a never ending supply of self help books that can tell you how to achieve the golden goose of happiness. However in my experience part of being content and emotionally well is not about forever chasing after a false dream of constant happiness or telling yourself that when you achieve x/y or z you will then be happy. It is rather accepting that life has its ups and downs and that we all have good days and bad days.

We can still “thrive” and achieve our goals whilst we have bad days as long as our days don’t then turn into weeks, months, or even years. One part of identifying for myself and others about what makes us “thrive” is an acceptance that at times life, and how we feel about it, can be very hard for all of us; no matter what our background or experience. When we are able to accept this we are then able to look at the next step of how we put in place things in our life that will help us work towards achieving the optimum amount of 10/10’snor at least 8/10’s in the following weeks, months and years.

If you are interested and looking at ways to increase your mental health and wellbeing, I would recommend some online resources from some of the excellent UK mental health charities. There are some really good resources online (as well as some dodgy ones).  These two links from the Mental Health Foundation and Mind are a good place to start.

So in this mental health awareness week take a minute to have a think about your mental health and ask yourself are you surviving or thriving? And remember we all have the capacity to thrive but sometimes we may need some help to get there and that’s OK and it is what makes us human. 

Emma Marks has worked within the mental health sector for over 20 years in both the NHS and in the Statutory and Voluntary Sector. She currently works for a mental health charity as well as working freelance as a Consultant.