What is mental health anyway?

The following is the summary of an episode of “Who Cares About Men’s Health?” hosted by Dr. Troy Madsen and Scot Singpiel. For the full experience, we encourage you to subscribe and listen—it’s more fun that way.

How do you manage your stress?

Kevin Curtis, a licensed clinical social worker and the director of Crisis Services at University of Utah Health, joins the hosts to discuss mental health and managing stress.

Troy Madsen says running is his antidepressant. A good jog helps keep him sane and process the stress which can come from working in the emergency room.

Scot Singpiel gets anxious if he doesn’t get in some exercise every day. He also notices a difference when he isn’t eating well or watching his beer consumption.

Curtis manages stress with exercise and a routine and meditative reflection.

Assess your mental health with a few questions

Mental health issues account for 40% of the health conditions which affect people age 25-35. Suicide is the second-highest cause of death for young people. Staying mentally healthy is as important as maintaining physical health.

Just like taking care of the interconnected systems of the body, your mind is complicated with many different aspects to consider. Check the state of both your thoughts and emotions. Curtis says to consider these questions about your mental state:

  • Are you having thoughts that are useful to you?
  • Are you having thoughts that impact your ability to function?
  • Is your emotional state supporting or hindering achieving your goals?

If any of the answers to any of these questions are negative, it may be time to consider reaching out for help.

Break the taboo about men sharing their feelings

Mental health isn’t as obvious as say a broken bone. There are plenty of people who seem happy, even though they’re a mess inside. Appearance is not necessarily a sign of good mental health.

Society can pressure us to hide our feelings and pretend everything is alright. For men especially, it seems like the only emotion they’re allowed to express is anger. If you had a heart condition and had to take medication for it, would you feel ashamed? If you hurt your hamstring, would you hide it from your friends and family? Treating mental health in the same way as physical health can help push back against the social reinforcers which prevent people from seeking help.

What can you do to help others?

It can be challenging enough to break the taboo and share your feelings with a friend or loved one, but it can be just as difficult to help someone else going through an emotional time. Even Curtis, who is a mental health professional, has had difficulty supporting his friends if they come to him for emotional support.

If you’re having trouble talking to others or are unsure about helping others if they reach out to you, here are some ideas to keep in the back of your mind:

  • Be brave. It isn’t easy to share something vulnerable about yourself. If you choose to open up to someone, it is a sign of bravery, not weakness.
  • What are you willing to give? You are probably willing to offer more support than you’d be comfortable taking if the roles were reversed. Your friends and family are likely thinking the same thing, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Be willing to simply listen. It may seem like a stereotype, but men often want to solve problems, even with mental health. Remember there is no quick fix for emotional problems. Sometimes listening to someone and being supportive is the best way you can help.

Techniques to stay mentally resilient

The term mental resilience refers to how well a person can handle challenges or stress and bounce back from adversity. This resilience is crucial to your emotional health. So what can you do to maintain and improve it?

Mental health is just like physical health in many ways. The best ways to keep your mind healthy is not much different than how you keep your body healthy:

  • Develop and maintain a daily routine
  • Get enough physical activity during the week
  • Keep up your personal hygiene
  • Eat a good diet
  • Get enough sleep

Beyond maintenance, mindfulness is one of the primary ways you can improve your mental resilience. Mindfulness is the ability to detach your emotions from your thoughts, and putting yourself in the current moment. Most of the day to day worries are focused on mistakes of the past and anxieties about the future. By focusing on the present, you can free yourself up to focus on what is going on in your life right now and make the best decisions to get to where you want to be.

Avoid self-medication

When life gets stressful, it can be easy to distract ourselves with drink, food, sex, retail therapy, or even exercising too much. It may help take your mind off of the problem for a while, but it’s ultimately fleeting and potentially harmful. These things can all be great in moderation but using them as an avoidance behavior isn’t solving anything.

“It’s like running away from a fire, rather than putting it out,” says Curtis.

Avoid self-medication whenever possible. It’s never a real solution to your mental health.

Seek professional help before it becomes a problem

Curtis says, “You don’t wait until your arm falls off before you go and see a doctor.” So why should mental health be any different? If you don’t feel ‘right,’ or it feels like things aren’t going well with your emotions, seek out help. You do not have to be at a point of crisis to reach out to a professional.

Professional help can be more beneficial than what you can get from just speaking to a friend or loved one. A neutral mental health expert, without investments in your personal life, might be better suited to help with your situation. A licensed professional can help normalize whatever you’re going through and be able to get you on a better track before things get worse.

Many insurance plans and workplaces include mental health benefits. Be sure to check out what is available to you and get help if you need it.