ONE in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
And mental illness doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
Today is World Mental Health Day – which occurs annually on October 10 and aims to educate and raise awareness of mental health issues.
And last year The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign, to remind anyone facing a tough time, grappling with mental illness or feeling like there’s nowhere left to turn, that there is hope.
Here, we explore the warning signs your mental health could be at risk.
And with the help of some top experts, talk you through five of the best ways to boost your mental health and tackle any issues.
Signs your mental health is at risk
There are many signs and symptoms that your mental health is at risk – but everyone’s experience will vary.
According to mental health charity Mind, here are some of the common warning signs to look out for.
1. Difficulty speaking
You may struggle to speak, think clearly or make decisions and feel down, upset or tearful.
It may also become difficult to remember certain things or to concentrate on simple tasks or jobs at work.
2. Bad relationship with food
You may have no appetite and be losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight.
3. Avoiding social events
You might avoid social events and activities you usually enjoy and have no self-confidence or self-esteem.
You might find it difficult to talk about your depression and instead you might cut yourself off from other people.
The more overwhelming your symptoms, the more isolated and lonely you might become.
4. Poor sleeping patterns
You may be finding it difficult to sleep at night and are constantly plagued by anxious thoughts.
On the other hand, you may also be sleeping too much and never want to leave your bed.
This in turn may make you feel tired all the time.
5. Physical aches
You may have physical aches and pains with no obvious cause whatsoever.
Friends and family may notice you’re beginning to move very slowly, or becoming restless and agitated.
6. Addictive behaviour
You may start using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual.
7. Losing interest in sex
You may feel empty and numb and no longer feel as though you have a sex drive.
8. Self-harming or suicidal behaviour
If you are feeling low, you might use self-harming behaviours to cope with difficult feelings.
Although this might make you feel better in the short term, self-harm can be very dangerous and can make you feel a lot worse in the long term.
When you’re feeling really low and hopeless, you might find yourself thinking about suicide. Whether you’re only thinking about the idea, or actually considering a plan to end your life, these thoughts can feel difficult to control and very frightening.
If you feel as though some of these warning signs apply to you, you should speak to a doctor immediately.
People tend to wait a long time to report their symptoms but they sooner the issue is reported the sooner people can begin to recover.
If you are worried about a loved one, you can call advice services like Samaritans for free on 116 123.
Ways to improve your mental health
1. Munch on ‘feel-good-foods’
The food you eat directly impacts how your body works and how your brain fires.
There are a number of ‘feel-good-foods’ that naturally induce endorphins and can clear your head, as well as balancing the gut flora, which directly links back to the brain.
In particular, a recent study revealed that eating more raw fruit and vegetables can help ease depression and other mental illness.
Lead author of the study and psychology PhD student Kate Brookie from the University of Otago in New Zealand said: “Our research has highlighted that the consumption of fruit and vegetables in their ‘unmodified’ state is more strongly associated with better mental health compared to cooked/canned/processed fruit and vegetables.”
Exercise is known to boost your mood – even if that just involves going for a short walk.
Last year, scientists from the mental health group Black Dog Institute found that as little as one hour of exercise a week could help to prevent depression.
Dr Victor Thompson, Clinical Sports Psychologist, told The Sun Online: “Exercise is great for our mental health for a number of reasons.
“It releases endogenous opiates – our body’s happy hormones – which work to lift our mood. It takes us away from the stresses and strains of life for a while.
“When exercising we are doing something for ourselves, showing that we are worth prioritising.
“Exercise should be kept simple. For most people, walking can done most easily – it doesn’t require going to a gym or any equipment.
“Choose what you might like, or have liked before. For instance, did you like swimming? Then try going to your local pool. Hate running? Then don’t try to start your exercise habit with a daily run!
“One tip is to avoid anything too stressful or competitive, especially if you are feeling not so great, or you are just starting out.”
3. Get a good sleep
Getting enough sleep is absolutely essential for your mind to function properly – and too little can seriously impact on your mood and well being.
Dr Natasha Bijlani, a general adult psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital Roehampton, says: “Sleep has an important restorative function in ‘recharging’ the brain at the end of each day, just like we need to charge a mobile phone battery after prolonged use.
“Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle allows the natural rhythm of the body to be reset every day and therefore optimises brain functioning.
“Ongoing poor sleep can be a huge risk factor for the development of major depressive disorder.
“The risk of feeling depressed and/or anxious (as well as worsening existing anxiety and depression) increases with the severity of insomnia, and so it is important to recognise and sort out sleep problems as soon as they are identified.”
4. Set boundaries
Wellness expert Emily Wysock-Wright, Founder of Adira, emphasises the need to set boundaries and to focus on putting yourself first.
She says: “By always putting others and their needs before yourself, it leaves us little time to do what makes you happy and well.
“It’s important to identify the boundaries needed for self-rediscovery, how to set these and more importantly, which ones are non-negotiable.”
5. Focus on how you feel not how you look
The Naked Professor, Ben Bidwell, working in association with the mindfulness toolkit ThinkWell-LiveWell, emphasised the need to focus on not just how you look on the outside.
Ben, a mindset and purpose life coach, says many people just think about how they come across on social media, rather than how they actually feel.
He says: “If physical health is about being able to move well and look good on the outside, mental health is about feeling good on the inside.
More on mental health
“With physical health being, dare I say it, more shareable, the easy option is to focus our attention on what can be visibly seen by others, rather than paying attention to how life actually feels on the inside.
“Life changes when we work harder at how we feel than how we look.
“When we actually live a life that inspires us, rather than one that presents well to others but feels empty on the inside, then we start to become proud of ourselves – our self-esteem grows.
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