What do psychologists want you to know about mental health?

We asked six psychologists, 'What should everyone know about mental health?'. 

Mental health is more than mental illness

There is a misperception that psychologists only deal with serious psychological conditions. In fact, I spend much of my time teaching clients how to maintain their wellbeing.

My psychological building blocks of wellbeing are:

  • Prioritise sleep and try to get 8 hours a day
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet
  • Drink water 
  • Exercise at least half an hour each day
  • Do mindfulness meditation for at least 10 minutes a day
  • Every day say at least 5 positive things to your partner for every one negative
  • Volunteer for a charity at least once a week, studies say you'll be happier and live longer
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Have at least 2-3 alcohol free days each week
  • Spend as much time as you can with your friends, they are the greatest predictor of wellbeing going around.

- Dr Michael Carr-Gregg

When life gets busy, act early and find your own space

It's important for people to be proactive around their mental health and not wait until things become overwhelming. At Lifeline, we see a lot of people who wait until their issue becomes a crisis before they seek help.

We all need to pay attention to ourselves and find time and space when things start impacting on our body, emotions and mental health. 

People often keep going until they burnout. We need to find our own physical, or emotional space and stop the life merry-go-round. Take a walk, process what's going on and understand it's impact.

At this stage connecting with someone is really important. You may not need to connect to a professional, contacting friends or family may be enough.

- Ann Evans, Lifeline

A supportive environment is essential for recovery

Most mental health issues are an interaction between vulnerability and environment. What's most important in recovery is a healthy environment, supportive people, and getting the opportunity to re-establish trust and safety.

It's very rare to find people presenting with mental health issues that don't have some kind of trauma in the background. Recovery is really about support and normalisation, making healthy and better environments. It's about educating people and helping them understand that they're not just enslaved by some kind of genetic vulnerability.

Neuroplasticity is also really important. There's a real need for people to think that there's hope and capacity to change. The human brain is a very plastic structure, so change is possible in any adult. 

It's all about teaching people how to experience their memories, and the physical and emotional qualities of these memories. Helping people realise how these past events influence their present relationships and experiences of the world.

If you can create the right environment then change is possible.

- Nigel Denning

Don't forget face-to-face connection

In today's society, we have many ways to connect socially through the use of our phones, the internet and social media platforms. While this has increased our capacity to be connected, in many ways it has also increased social isolation.

We often engage in 'screen time' which restricts our ability to engage with those around us. Screen time is simply the time you spend each day using devices with screens such as TVs, phones and computers.

Being human, we all want social connection. Yet, these changes have impacted how we connect to others.

One way of maintaining good mental health is to maintain and seek meaningful social connections with your family or friends. As social beings, this face-to-face engagement goes a long way to protect our mental health. It also provides a support network, which can increase your resilience and reduce stress.

- Melissa Wilson, SANE Australia

Carers are important

Psychological support is important for people with complex mental illness, but also for those who take on the role as carer. 

A 2014 study of over 4,000 informal carers found that caring for a person with a mental illness is associated with lower quality of life, and higher rates of stress and depression. There's also evidence to suggest that in some cases, the wellbeing of carers can be lower than the people they're caring for.

So, who cares for the carers?

Being a carer is a noble undertaking, but often one that's associated with a sense of obligation or guilt. Sometimes the carer has to come to terms with the loss of their prior relationship.

It's important for carers to recognise that in order to be the best caregiver they can be, they need not compromise their own psychological health.

Carers can benefit from working with a psychologist to develop strategies to help them sustain their wellbeing, so that they can better care for those around them.

- Dr Melissa Weinberg

The simple things are important

Sometimes it can be as simple as remembering to take a breath. This is a natural way of helping us calm our system, so we can make rational decisions and have clarity of thought.

It's also important to be kind to ourselves. Don't set ridiculous expectations in comparison to others. Sometimes we judge ourselves too harshly.

We're allowed to be proud of our achievements. Many of us endure difficult moments in our lives – sometimes the hardest thing to do is getting out of bed in the morning – so celebrate this. Give yourself a hug. As strange as this may sound it actually releases oxytocin and dopamine.

Listen to your body, because many times it gives us a heads-up that something's going on. Pay attention to yourself and be curious as to what's going on. Awareness is key. Have a daily check-in. Putting it in your daily schedule. A 5-minute mindfulness check-in or breathing activity is important, especially if we're experiencing stressful situations or anxiety.

- Lirit Janover

If something feels not quite right, remember there are services available to help you on the road to recovery.

You can contact the SANE Help Centre and one of our counsellors will help you respond to your concerns by providing information, guidance, or referrals to support services.

Call 1800 18 7263 between 10am and 10pm AEST Monday to Friday.