Simple, everyday actions that support mental health

by Elena Greco

What exactly is “mental health”?  Life is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of feelings and experiences!  No one is happy all the time, just as no one is sad all the time.  Sometimes we’re ecstatic, sometimes we’re distraught.  Sometimes we feel alone or hopeless; sometimes we’re exuberant and full of energy.  Whatever we feel, we can rest assured that all of us experience these ups and downs in our lives. 

Experiencing the ups and downs of life is not a disease; it is the inherent quality of life.  Mental health means being able to weather the kaleidoscope of life and remain relatively in balance and able to function well in the midst of it all.

Mental health is important to all of us because it greatly affects our physical health, well-being, productivity, evolution and satisfaction, both individually and collectively.

Occasionally these ups and downs are a little too severe or extreme, and we have trouble getting on with our lives.  At times like those it’s good to have support.

Support, with regard to mental health, means to assist or encourage.  It also means resources we can rely or draw on when the need arises.  It can mean really listening when someone needs to talk; just being with and accepting someone when they’re having a hard time; offering a smile or a friendly word when someone is down. 

Being able to email or text instantly is a wonderful thing, but they’re no replacement for being with someone.  Sometimes the sound of a human voice is infinitely more healing than reading text in an email.  When we feel supported, our immunity, mood and productivity increase, and we feel more like helping others.  And helping others makes us feel better, too.

Support also means things that you do or rely upon that help you stay in balance in times of stress.  We can support our own mental health by becoming aware of things that keep us in balance.  Examples are:

  • having a support system of friends and colleagues and family
  • having a means of relaxation (such as meditation, yoga, visualization or hobbies) to combat stress
  • including pleasure and leisure in our busy work lives
  • spending time in nature engaging regularly in physical exercise that suits our body and temperament.  

It also means knowing in advance what we can do if we get stuck and need assistance, a personal plan of action. 

Because we are so geographically mobile, many of us have no extended family nearby.  Some of us are very focused on our careers and don’t have much of a social life.  Most of us have developed a rather intense connection to technology so that our time is spent communing with our computer instead of our best friend.  We are bombarded with information and images from the media which now surround us.  One of the results of all of this is an increase in our indifference to suffering; we feel removed from it.

Just by becoming aware of those around us and what we might to do to help them, we really can make a difference for each other.  The good news is that supporting someone doesn’t require heroic action or specialized know-how. It isn’t really necessary to do a lot, and it doesn’t require a special degree! 

Each of us can offer support to others in his or her own unique way.  We all have something to offer each other, even if it’s just a smile!  For example, there was a man in Australia named Don Ritchie who saved close to 400 people from jumping off a cliff in front of his cottage, a popular place to commit suicide, simply by walking out to them, smiling, and asking if they’d like to have a cup of tea with him and tell him what was bothering them.  He once said “not to underestimate the power of a kind word and a smile.”

First published in Psychology Today.