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Hats off to Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles for having the courage to speak out about their recent mental health challenges.

Thank goodness.

Because the more we speak out about our struggles (and if you’re human there’s a good chance this might include you) the more we normalise talking about our feelings, and the more we normalise our feelings, the stronger we become in knowing how to do to keep ourselves mentally strong.

Meanwhile, we keep being told just how prevalent mental challenges are.

We keep hearing, “There’s a mental health crisis.”

But I am sick and tired of listening to the current conversations about mental health in the media.

Because we’ve got mental health all wrong.

The issue isn’t with mental health itself, it’s how we compartmentalise it, separating it from physical health, which with our current state of knowledge and understanding about what contributes to ill health, simply makes no sense.

What helps us to feel good and in a better frame of mind are all those lifestyle choices that also improve our physical health. And looking after your physical health is paramount for better mental wellbeing.

Neither does it make sense to only focus on outcomes i.e. poor mental health without addressing prevention.

Mental health is intrinsically part of whole person health.

It always has been.

It’s no more appropriate to keep mental health separate from nutrition and sleep as it would be to consider heart health in a vacuum away from physical activity, healthy weight management, smoking and stress.

Looking after our health and wellbeing is about attending to all aspects of our body, including our mind.

If we’re really serious about reducing the economic and personal burden of the rapidly rising burden of chronic medical disease, let’s get back to the basics and remember

1. We are human

2. We have basic physiological and psychological needs, that if met, enable us to operate at our optimal level.

3. We have the capacity to greatly reduce the risk of future ill health, both mental and physical by addressing those lifestyle factors shown by the research to mitigate that risk.

Around 80% of all chronic medical disease is believed to be preventable.

Yes, you read that correctly.

And yet, we currently spend under 2% of the existing health budget on prevention.

This is nuts.

I find it incomprehensible that we continue to dance around the campfire celebrating new advancements in treating different diseases (don’t get me wrong, these are fantastic) but fail to effectively address the real issue of what’s causing us to get sick and sad in the first place.

And at present we are continuing to grow sicker and sadder and dying younger.

What if?

Instead of reacting to the presence of mental illness and instigating treatment as the ONLY approach we sought to promote the concept of developing and maintaining mental wellbeing by adopting proactive strategies to enhance good mental health and reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.

Instead of asking “what’s wrong with you?” let’s get solution focused and ask, “what’s right with you?” and build up our existing strengths and capabilities.

Instead of looking at mental health as being a case of you either have a mental illness or you don’t, let’s see it as the spectrum it is, where you can consciously nudge your position towards higher mental wellbeing through your choice of positive daily activities.

Instead of burying our heads in the sand and hoping this will all “just go away,” let’s make mental wellbeing the norm and empower every person to better manage their own mental wellbeing.

Instead of being handed a prescription for an anti-anxiolytic or antidepressant on its own, you were invited to consider whether a prescription for better sleep, increased physical activity, healthy nutrition or a social prescription might also be appropriate or a better alternative.

We have the solution, so let’s

  1. Make mental wellbeing the norm by teaching every person how to elevate their own psychological wellbeing.

             This can be done in every school, tertiary institution, community and workplace.

  • Create a safe environment where it is normal, expected and encouraged for everyone to share their true feelings.
  • Hold these open meetings regularly, at school or work. Once a week, once a fortnight or even once a month is a great start and will contribute to a workplace culture where people feel cared for.

Taking care of our mental health requires three things

  1. Recognising the presence of mental health challenges EARLY so that intervention can be made accessible and in a timely fashion.
  2. Having a support network set up where everyone knows what to look out for, what to say, and how to offer support. Mental First Aid is a great first step.
  3. Having mental wellbeing programs in place that educate and put into practice those tools and strategies that build individual and collective resilience, coping skills and greater happiness.

Our existing mental health system is broken and while it will continue to require further injections of cash, training up of mental health specialists and support workers now is the perfect opportunity to reimagine…

A better mental health care system that seeks to protect and treat those who are vulnerable or living with mental illness.

That actively promotes mental wellbeing so that mental and physical health enjoy the same status and once and for all removes that toxic stigma.

That seeks first to prevent and minimise the risk of mental illness and reduce the harm it does to individuals, our families, and communities.

We can do so much better, so let’s get started NOW!

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.


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