Unlike physical health conditions, most people don’t yet realise there is also a lot we can do to prevent the development mental health conditions.
When it comes to mental health, the conversation typically centres upon recognising the signs and symptoms of various conditions and the importance of seeking professional support. It goes without saying that this is critically important. But what can we do to intervene earlier, so that individuals and families can be spared distress and disruption that comes with a mental health condition?
The good news is that there is much that can be done.
In a recent review of the evidence , there are a number of strategies that can be effective in reducing the incidence of mental health conditions. Prevention is possible.
In basic terms, mental health conditions arise when a certain level of biological predisposition (e.g. genetics, temperament) meets ‘enough’ environmental stress. This mixture of nature and nurture varies between individuals, but most mental health experts recognise both are important in shaping us. Given this, and the fact we can’t change our genes, there are two main ways that we can help prevent mental health conditions.
Firstly, we can reduce people’s exposure to the environmental factors that contribute to these conditions – such as experiences of bullying, discrimination, abuse, excessive work stress, isolation. A big part of prevention is about creating a kinder, more supportive, and less harmful society.
Secondly, and more achievable in the short term, we can also increase people’s exposure to the factors that protect against these conditions – such as, developing resilience skills, social connectedness, having meaningful work, financial security, and adequate housing.
The research shows resilience to be particularly important. Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and adversity. Resilience is not only about attributes or skills within a person, but also about the external supports they can draw upon to manage through difficult times.
Australian mental health charity Prevention United have developed a Staying ‘AHEAD’ framework which outlines five key areas for protecting mental wellbeing and reducing the risk of experiencing a mental health condition:
Awareness: Know your risks for poor mental health – such as a family history, experiences of trauma, major life transitions or current life stresses. Knowing when your mental health is ‘at risk’ helps you prioritise self-care.
Healthy Lifestyle: Taking care of your body is also taking care of your mind. Sleep, exercise, nutrition, and not smoking or drinking excessively are the pillars of good overall health.
Emotional Flexibility: Learning to think in helpful, realistic and balanced ways is key to regulating your emotions.
Adversity Support: Asking for assistance when you need it, and having people to talk to during tough times, helps protect our mental wellbeing.
Direction: Having a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a sense of purpose, helps your mental health and motivates you during times of adversity.
Remember, you don’t need to be experiencing a mental health condition to reach out for support. If you’re going through a difficult or stressful life event or transition, know that this is potentially a risk time your for mental health. Prioritise self-care and seek support from one of our trained psychologists to ensure you stay on top of your mental health.
If you feel that we may be able to support you – contact us at the Centre for Clinical Psychology. You can contact us on 03 9077 0122, or book online to make an appointment.