The scale of mental health problems and what to do about them

5 simple steps

According to the Mental Health Foundation, depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Statistics from the UK indicate that 2/3 of the UK population have experienced a mental health problem at some point in their lives and that only 13% of the population are thriving with high levels of positive mental health.

Let's try to to put this in context. A recent report from the Institute of Directors state that 1 in 6 UK adults experience a common mental health disorder over any given week. To put that another way. that is 10 times the number of people who attend a professional football match - the nation's favourite sport. The most recent Mental Health at Work Report from Business in the Community also states that 3 out of every 5 employees (60%) have experienced mental health issues in the past year because of work.

It is also increasingly being recognised that mental ill health is a problem not just affecting a small minority of people, but society as a whole. 1 in 4 people are reported to be diagnosed with a mental health condition in any given year. In addition many more experience poor mental health, which disrupts our family and working lives.

Mental ill health is now the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, with more than 15 million absence days attributed to stress, anxiety and depression in 2013, at a cost to the UK economy of £8.4bn. In 2015/2016 stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost.

The Centre for Mental Health has also calculated that presenteeism, the practice of staying at work more hours than required, usually because of job insecurity, costs the UK economy £15.1bn per annum. In other words, people stay at work but their minds and attention is so distracted or below optimum that they take far longer to do tasks or get distracted by the unimportant or unnecessary. I am sure these statistics and figures are not much different for most of the rest of the industrialised world.

To maintain physical health, there has been a rightful emphasis on factors such as stopping smoking, losing weight, exercise, healthy eating and meaningful relationships. (For more on this also see What Is The Single Most Important Thing I Can Do To Improve My Physical Health? and What Is The ONE Essential Ingredient For Life-Long Health and Happiness?).

But what about mental health wellbeing?

Over recent years, through increased research there has began to be a greater understanding of  the contributing factors that lead to poor mental health. What this means is that many common mental health problems can be prevented. For prevention to be effective,  appropriate and relevant education is essential in order to encourage self care and our own management of our wellbeing.

Here are 5 simple ways to wellbeing:.....

Connecting with others.
Good relationships are not just beneficial for us socially, but they also improve our overall wellbeing. It has been shown that those who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were also the healthiest at age 80. In addition these strong relationships also protected them from some of the physical consequences of growing old. Those 80 year olds in happy relationships with their partners were able to report that when they had more physical pain their mood stayed just as happy. But those who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain it was made worse by the emotional pain they were experiencing. (For more on this see here).
Some of life's most enriching experiences are when we meaningfully connect with others.

Being active
Physical exercise has been shown to have significant positive effects on emotional and mental health.  The key is to discover a physical activity you actually enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness. The goal for most of us is not to win the Olympics, but to do just enough to notice the beneficial effects in our lives. Just 10 minutes of physical activity has been shown to be beneficial to mental wellbeing. Taking a break from your normal work roles and responsibilities can make us feel guilty. The reality is even as short as a 5 minute break every 30 minutes to positively refresh ourselves can bring us into a more resourceful state and enable us to use our time productively.

Take notice
In our frenetic fast paced world it is so easy to rush from one thing to another. In previous generations children and young people use to complain of boredom. Now with so much available through technology, you hear that a lot less often. Our mind is active throughout the day. There always seems to be something more to do and then there are all the messages coming through our smartphones and devices. Alternatively we may not be doing much, but we may be lost in our thoughts. We find ourselves focussing on the things not working in our lives and end up being busy doing nothing of any meaningful value.
When we notice we stop to pause, even for a brief period. We spend time in silence and reflect on our experiences. We look up and give time and attention to being aware of where we are and what is before us.

Learning
For many of us negative experiences at school have led to a resistance and reluctance to learn new things. It is striking how many people never read a book after finishing their formal education. It can be hard to feel motivated to learn especially if because of our work or other roles we are told we have to learn specific things whether we are interested in them or not. However, learning for its own sake something that genuinely interests us can be enormously fulfilling and rewarding. a lifestyle that includes valuing learning is positively associated with mental health and wellbeing.

Giving
So much of life can appear transactional and functional. We give for what we can get out of someone, or for the sake of politeness, obligation or duty. However, giving out of a genuine desire to help or encourage another person can be a reward in itself. Being able to look beyond my own needs to the needs of others is remarkably beneficial for mental health.

Which of these 5 simple steps resonates with you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “The scale of mental health problems and what to do about them

  1. Another great article, and mental ill health is indeed one of the great challenges of our times. Good advice to continually keep learning, keeping fresh and finding something that motivates, expands and inspires us.

  2. I think our lack of connection with each other is a huge problem. A social media post or comment doesn’t replace hearing a voice or receiving a hug, but for many, most of our social interaction is digital. I think apps like Meet-Up will help us get back into the habit of face to face contact.

    • That is a helpful perspective Connie. I always feel wary of digital solutions to solve digital problems and don’t know much about Meet-Up but look forward to finding out more in due course!