A lot of people are not aware that taking care of our Mental Health is just as important as looking after our Physical Health. In fact, some experts even believe that our mental health takes precedence over physical health. This is because having a sound mental health greatly affects our ability to maintain our physical well-being, as well as our emotions, motivation, energy level and how we deal with people, things or situations on a daily basis.
To find out more about the importance of taking care of our mental health, JAMO Magazine sat down with Dr. Hani Mohammed, Consultant Family Physician at Royal Bahrain Hospital, Janabiya, Kingdom of Bahrain. Below are excerpts of our interview with Dr. Hani Mohammed:
What is Mental Health?
Dr. Hani Mohammed: Mental health is the state of subjective well-being governed by our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This in turn influences our behaviors, choices, and decisions on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. Feelings of mental wellness will vary from person to person but ultimately relates to an individual’s ability in enjoying their day-to-day life while creating a balance between daily activities.
Why is it important to take care of our mental health?
Dr. Hani Mohammed: The mind is a powerful tool and it creates an ever changing image of our reality through the data it receives, collects, and stores, facilitated by our sensory perception. This helps us gain a better understanding of our immediate environment and respond to it accordingly. I would describe the mind as an “interactive mirror” that not only reflects objects presented to it but is both influenced by and receptive to them in real time. However, the mind needs to be nurtured and cared for, which is essential in preventing illness and disease, whether physical or mental. This can be achieved by being aware of facilitators and barriers to our mental well-being and taking the right steps to protect and enrich it. Inevitably, mental health is vital towards maintaining a state harmony between the mind, body, and environment.
How do we take care of our mental health?
Dr. Hani Mohammed: A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. To strengthen mental health, the basic requirements of adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, and physical fitness cannot be overlooked. These pillars of health are catalysts of preventative health and serve to protect and enrich mental health. In addition, awareness is an important step towards achieving mental well-being. Once an individual realises what negatively impacts their mental well-being, they can reflect on these unhealthy habits, behaviours, or thoughts and make informed choices to avoid, change or discard them entirely. For example, you ask yourself – how am I feeling right now? Am I worried? Anxious? Tense? From there you can consider and pinpoint what triggered these feelings and then learn how to address the root cause, cope with the outcome, and prevent recurrence. On the other hand, this method of reflection can also be used to empower yourself further when you are feeling positive emotions and further promote mental well- being.
Positive psychology can also be protective of our mental health. I find that practicing gratitude is a quick and easy way to promote feelings of well-being. Every night in bed, think of 3 positive things you are grateful for. This could be something that happened earlier in that day (e.g. you had a great cup of coffee in the morning), or anything or anyone you value (e.g. you love how your cat comes running to you when you come back home from work). Practice this every night for a couple of weeks, and your perspective of the world will slowly start to change for the better.
What are the things that are harmful to our mental health?
Dr. Hani Mohammed: We must be careful of what we feed the mind, in terms of thoughts we may have at any given time or content we expose the mind to. We find ourselves in difficult and unprecedented times, as there is a lot of disarray and uncertainty in the world around us. Whether through news on TV, alarmist articles, or social media posts, we need to be mindful of the amount, duration, and nature of the content we consume daily. Just like the body requires sleep and rest, the mind needs a break! Much like going to the gym, you cannot overwork a tired bicep muscle and expect it to continue and always function effectively, 24/7. Also, one must also be aware of ruminating or obsessive thoughts that can derail mental well-being and thrust individuals into a cycle of languishing and feeling unfulfilled. As the Roman philosopher Seneca once said: “There are more things likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
Is a sound mental health vital to one’s success in life?
Dr. Hani Mohammed: Absolutely. There is strong evidence linking high mental well-being with increased productivity in work environments. Naturally, if you are feeling good about yourself and are in high spirits, the body will align with the mind. This can facilitate a growth mindset that can prove fruitful in both a professional and personal capacity.
What illnesses can one get if he or she is not mentally healthy?
Dr. Hani Mohammed: Stress and pressure are essential components of daily life to help drive us towards achieving personal and professional goals and tapping into limitless potential. However, when stress starts to exhaust an individual’s coping resources, this poses a risk of strain and eventually burnout. Overtime, burnout can then evolve into mental illness such as depression or anxiety.
Also, despite the mind and body sometimes being seen as separate entities, there is a synergistic relationship between the two. Poor mental health can negatively affect physical health, and manifest in several ways in the body. Chronic, unaddressed stress, for example, can result in things such as constant fatigue, poor sleep, or tensed muscles and joint pain. This then becomes a cycle which further worsens mental well-being. However, poor mental health has also been linked to other conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and brain disorders.
Is there anything else you would like to add about mental health?
Dr. Hani Mohammed: It is unfortunately quite easy to neglect mental health and assume you can ‘power through’, perhaps from previous experience or false assumptions that poor mental health will be seen as a weakness by society. This is far from the truth because even the most resilient among us if pressured far and long enough, will eventually run out of steam, and can succumb to mental and physical ailments.
We need to move away from the stigma and myths surrounding mental health and start having more constructive conversations with one another about this vital part of health and well-being. I truly believe communication based on honesty, compassion, and non-judgement can help manage a lot of the preventable problems that we are facing. Perhaps it might be initially difficult to engage in a sensitive topic like mental health, which is where counselling can help fill the gap. Counselling can be described as an open conversation with a trained health professional who helps you work through personal and emotional issues that act as barriers to mental well-being, and inevitably, health.
We tend to think that we only go to see doctors when there is something physically wrong, to help fight disease. What if instead, we pre-empted this fight altogether and focused our energy on preventative health? Sometimes just a chat with your family physician can go a long way in helping you maintain health and well-being.