By Essie Bester
In the latest mental-health report South Africa was judged the lowest-ranked country in mental wellbeing worldwide.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the factors that play a big role in determining a country’s morale are social, cultural, economic, political and environmental factors such as national policy, social protection, standards of living, work circumstances and community support.
The report also revealed how the mental health of the younger generations have declined. According to the report the disturbing decline in the mental health of the younger generation was a worldwide phenomenon.
Four potential reasons for the fast shift in mental health among young adults have been identified, viz. income inequity, political instability, factors concerning the internet, and environmental toxins.
Of these four the internet definitely had the biggest impact, is the opinion of the writers of the report. The growth in social-media use and screen time occupies so much of our waking time that it crowds out the time that was previously spent on social interaction, something that is of cardinal importance when building a strong social self (one of the five dimensions of mental health. The others are mood and outlook, drive and motivation, cognition and mind-body connection.
Evidence points to five steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing:
Good relationships are important for your mental health in that they can help you to develop a feeling of belonging and self-worth, give you an opportunity to share positive experiences and allow you to support others.
Try to build stronger and closer relationships by:
taking time every day to be with your family − for instance, try to have supper with them regularly;
arranging for a day with friends you haven’t seen for a while;
switching off the TV to talk to your children, friends or family, or to play a game;
having lunch with a colleague;
visiting a friend or relative who needs support or company;
thinking about serving as a volunteer at a local school, hospital or community group; and
making the best use of technology to stay in contact with friends and family who live far away. Video chat programmes such as Skype and FaceTime are useful.
Do not rely on technology or social media alone to build relationships.
Being active is wonderful not only for your physical health and fitness. There is evidence to show that it can improve your mental health by enhancing your self-image and helping you to set and achieve goals. It also brings about chemical changes in your brain that helps you change your mood positively.
Look for free activities that can help you to get fit.
If you are handicapped or have a long-term health condition, find out how to get active in spite of it.
Don’t feel that you have to spend hours in a gym. Find activities you enjoy and make them part of your life.
Research shows that learning new skills can enhance your mental health by boosting your self-confidence and enhancing your self-image, helping you to find a new purpose in life and helping you to connect with others.
Try making a new dish – find out about healthy cooking and eating hints
Try to accept a new responsibility at work, such as mentoring a junior member of staff or to improve your presentation skills.
Work on a do-it-yourself project, such as repairing a broken bicycle, garden gate or bigger – there are many free video tutorials available online.
Consider enrolling for a course at a local college – such as learning a new language or a practical skill. Try new hobbies that challenge you, such as writing a blog, starting on a new sport or to learn painting.
Do not feel that you have to obtain a new qualification or write an examination if it does not interest you. It must be activities you enjoy and they may be part of your life.
Research suggests that giving and being friendly can help to improve your mental health because they elicit positive feelings and a feeling of reward, give you a feeling of purpose and self-respect and help you connect with other people.
The following are examples of the things you can try:
saying thank you regularly
asking friends, family and colleagues how they are and really listening to their replies
spending time with loved ones who need support or company
offering to help somebody with a do-it-yourself or work project
doing volunteer work in your community, such as helping at a school, hospital or care facility
- Be in the present moment (mindfulness)
Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental health. This includes your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Mindfulness can help you to positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach problems.
Mental health is essential for our general wellbeing and as important as physical health. When we feel good mentally we can be productive in our work, enjoy our leisure time and contribute actively to our communities.
In cases of mental distress the first step is to talk to somebody you trust. If you feel you need it, get the help of a professional person.