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5 steps for making your mental health a priority in 2018 (and beyond)

Tuesday 16 January 2018

A woman stands in front of a tiled wall smiling up at the sky.
Your mental health is your psychological and emotional wellbeing.

When it comes to setting New Year’s resolutions, many of us hope that each year we’ll be feeling healthier and happier than the year before. We make fitness goals and promises to eat better, plan to work smarter and spend more time with family or friends.

A new year can also be a good time to think about making your mental health a priority. Whether you’re an avid goal setter, or you consider January just another month of the year, everyone can benefit from being mindful of what’s going on upstairs.

Follow these steps to invest in your mental wellbeing in 2018.

1. Understand what mental health actually is

If you’re still a bit unsure about what “mental health” means, make this the year you find out.

Just like physical health, everyone ‘has’ mental health, not just people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or condition.

Your mental health is your psychological and emotional wellbeing. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Being mentally well doesn’t mean you don’t experience ‘negative’ emotions or reactions, like sadness, anger, grief or frustration. Similarly, being mentally unwell doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t experience emotions like happiness or excitement, go to work or school, or have relationships.

Having mental wellbeing means being able to experience all the ups and downs of life and cope with them in a psychologically and emotionally healthy way.

Mental health and mental illness

Some people experience mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, which impact on their mental health. Mental illness is very common: 20% of Australians will experience a mental health condition each year.

We often only hear about mental health in the media in stories about mental illness. But mental health isn’t only about mental illness; it’s about your overall wellbeing.

Learning to be aware of your mental health may help you identify what helps you feel mentally well, times when you are not well, and when you might need to seek further help.

Two women sit at a table talking and laughing.

2. Cultivate mental wellness

Just like you eat your veggies and exercise to keep your body well, there are things you can do to promote mental health (handily, they also include eating well and exercising!).

Look after your body and mind

Exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep can all play a role in your mental health as well as your physical health. Cutting down on smoking, alcohol and drug use can also help improve your mental wellbeing.

Build meaningful relationships

Feeling connected to other people can play an important part in feeling and staying mentally well. Everyone will have different ways that they find meaningful connections with people. You might do this by developing relationships with family and friends, connecting with co-workers or classmates, joining a team or club where you spend time with likeminded people, or volunteering for a charity or community organisation.

Find your purpose

Feeling like you have purpose can help you feel motivated and build your self-esteem. You might find purpose by working at a job where you get to use your strengths and talents, by looking after a person or a pet, or by engaging in hobbies that are meaningful to you. What gives your purpose is very personal, and might change throughout your life.

Give your mind a workout

Mindfulness or meditation techniques can help you learn to quiet your mind and stay present in the moment. Practising these might help you learn how to deal with stress and help you relax.

Tools like the Wheel of Wellbeing can help you to map out the different aspects of life that impact on your health, and what you can do in each area to look after your health and happiness.

You can find more resources about looking after your mental health on the Head to Health website. This Australian Government website focuses on four broad aspects of life that can impact your mental wellbeing: physical health, connectedness, purposeful activity, and feeling safe, stable and secure.  

A man sits in a cafe, holding a book and looking out the window.

3. Find ways to decrease stress

Stress can impact anyone and can affect your mental and physical wellbeing. While a little bit of stress can be a good thing, helping you to focus and perform well under pressure, ongoing stress is not healthy for your body or mind.

Some strategies for decreasing stress are: knowing what triggers your stress, practising relaxation techniques, setting achievable goals, making time for activities you enjoy, and using tools like to-do lists to help you set priorities. Read more about ways to manage stress physically, mentally and through your behaviours on the Queensland Government website.

4. Take time out

Sometimes you just need to take a break and allow yourself to rest and relax. You might find it helpful to schedule some ‘you’ time each day or week, or take the occasional day off to help you relax and reset. Put the to-do list away, switch your phone to silent and do something that makes you feel good, whether that’s going for a run, practising meditation or watching your favourite TV show.

A woman sits on a chair facing her therapist, looking into the camera and smiling.

5. Get help when needed

It’s important to know that there are professionals and resources to help you if you’re not feeling mentally well.

Signs it’s time to seek professional help include:

  • you’ve been feeling sad, down, angry, depressed, numb or generally ‘not yourself’ all the time, for two weeks or more
  • the way you’re feeling is affecting your ability to cope at work, school or in your relationships.

You can start by talking to your GP, a trusted friend or family member who is a good listener, or by calling a helpline like beyondblue or Lifeline. If it’s an emergency and you think your life or someone else’s life is in danger, always call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.

Remember that only a trained health professional can diagnose you with a mental illness and offer treatment services.

More information

Want more information about mental health and wellbeing? Follow the links below:

Queensland Government: Mental health and wellbeing

Health Direct: Mental health and wellbeing

Four tools to help you take control of your depression or anxiety

How to have a conversation with a mate about mental health

beyondblue

Lifeline

Last updated: 30 January 2018