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Mental health, or emotional health, is a part of your overall health and your life. Mental health is not about an absence of illness, it's more about how well someone feels they are coping with the challenges life brings. It’s just like your physical health – sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad – but mental health has more to do with your thoughts and feelings.
Mental health is about how people feel, think, behave and act. Mental health includes:
- how you feel about yourself and your life
- how you respond to stress
- how you to cope with things that come up in your life
- your self-esteem or confidence
- how you see yourself and your future.
Many people think mental health is about having something wrong with your brain – that it's about being "mental", "crazy" or having a mental illness. Mental illness is when your feelings, emotions or thinking become disturbed. Just like you can become physically unwell, you can become mentally or emotionally unwell. But just like you can do things to keep physically well, you can also do things that will help to keep you mentally well. Often the same things will help you keep physically and mentally well, because it is all connected.
does your mental health affect your day?
- How does stress affect your day?
- How does feeling good about yourself affect your day?
- How does it affect your life when you feel upset, sad, alone or depressed?
- How do you cope with everyday situations?
Your mental health is affected by everything and everyone you have contact with. That means everything in your life can have a positive or negative affect on your mental health or emotional well being.
- your social life – your friends, your family, the things you do and get into
- the environment you live in – your home, your workplace, places you study, and where you hang out with friends
- your biological make-up – the way your body has been formed by your genetics
- patterns of thinking – the way your mind works (this is partly related to genetics and partly to your environment)
- self-care – the time you spend looking after yourself.
illness and the media
Stigma is defined as 'the sign of social unacceptability'. So something that has a stigma attached is usually seen as shameful or associated with people who are not 'normal'. Mental illness has a stigma in our society, and the media often adds to this stigma.
The media usually portray people that are mentally ill in a bad light. For example:
- Movies and TV may stereotype mentally ill people by portraying them as having only one characteristic. They are not shown as people who are normal in most ways, but have an illness. They are portrayed as having just one characteristic – the sly manipulator; a helpless depressed female; the comic relief; or the mad scientist.
- The news media often focus on negative stories in general, and with mental illness it is the same. People with a mental illness are often mentioned in news stories about violence. Research has shown that two-thirds of stories involving mental illness were crime stories.
- Sometimes in the media, discriminating words like 'loony' or 'crazy' are used, even if only in fun.
- Rarely do the reports suggest that anyone could become mentally ill and that mental illnesses are treatable.
So try to keep an eye on the ways the media create stigma about mental illness. Working together, we can all change the way mental illness is seen in society.
yourself mentally healthy
- Some studies suggest that what you eat affects your mood. A good balanced diet will make sure you have all the essential nutrients needed for your brain to function well. Check out Healthy eating to learn more.
- Exercise. Studies have shown that after only 30 minutes of exercise, people get a boost of good feelings. But 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 3 times a week is what you should aim for. Check out our topic Exercise for some ideas.
- Try to relax more. Relaxation exercises are a good way to reduce stress – check out our topic Stress and relaxation.
- Find and do things that you are good at and enjoy. We all have talents in different areas. These can help you build confidence and feel positive about yourself. Congratulate yourself and give yourself permission to be proud of your achievements.
- Develop personal skills that help you deal with people and other situations. Read some of these topics – Assertiveness, Conflict and negotiation, Self-esteem and confidence.
- Learn new ways to cope with problems in everyday life. Can you think of a part of your life you would like to make changes in? Check out the topic Goals.
- Get involved with things. Do volunteer work, join a club or committee, play sport, join a meditation group, go snorkelling with a group of people, socialise or do a short course. The more things you do, the more connected you feel to the world around you.
- Do something for someone else. Helping others can help you to feel good about yourself.
- Do something that is 'not you' – something you wouldn't usually do. This can be scary at first, but the more risks you take (safe ones of course), the more you can prove to yourself that you can handle new situations. You might even have a laugh on the way.
Information in languages other than English
Mental Health in Multicultural Australia
Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services - Mental Health Publications.
Sane Australia. Stigma watch. Online (cited 01-05-07):
Sustain’s Food and Mental Health Project. 'Changing Diets, Changing Minds: how food affects mental health and behaviour'. Online (cited 6/2/06):
Tkach C. and Lyumbomirsky S. 'How do people pursue happiness?: Relating personality, happiness-increasing strategies, and well-being'. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2006; 7:183-225. Online (cited 01-05-07):
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).