Thinking of Health in the Negative
We often think of health in deficit terms.
In other words, we think of health based on what it isn’t rather than what it is. Often in our minds, we picture a healthy person as someone who isn’t unwell, who isn’t in pain, who isn’t browsing the website of a discounted pharmacy looking for products. You could say that we tend to think of health in the negative, thinking that it only has meaning when contrasted to something worse – sickness, illness, infirmity.
In some ways, this is an entirely normal process. We think of the dark as something that isn’t light, or cold as something without warmth.
The problem is that definitions like these can be stunted, limited, and ultimately unhelpful. When we think of health purely in terms of what it isn’t, we miss out on the full range of what it can be.
Consider how the World Health Organisation defines health:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Notice that health is something that should encompass every aspect of our life. It is not just about eliminating the negative aspects of your life the way that you might pull weeds from a garden or remove a splinter from your skin.
Mental health: good for you, good for others, good for navigating life
Physical health is more than just the absence of illness. The same is true for mental health. To again borrow from the World Health Organisation, you could describe mental health
as a state of wellbeing in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
Many Australians are impacted by mental health conditions. Nearly half of Australians will experience a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse at least once in their life. The reality is that mental disorders can impact any Australian.
It is helpful to be able to identify mental health conditions in you and those closest to you. Health Direct suggests that you should seek medical assistance from a GP or another suitable health professional if you experience factors that include: increased feelings of anxiety, worry, depression, or worthlessness; extreme emotions; disrupted or insufficient sleep; changes in weight, behaviour, or feelings; and withdrawal from friendship and support networks.
Of course, if you or someone you know is at immediate risk of suicide or self-harm, call 000.
Where to get help
If you feel that your mental health is declining, it’s important that you reach out and get professional help. You might like to seek free support:
- Beyond Blue offers phone support twenty-four hours a day at 1300 22 4636, and online chat between 3pm and 12am (details provided on their website).
- Lifeline is available twenty-four hours a day at 13 11 14 to offer support for those in times of crisis and experiencing emotional distress.
- The Australian Government provides a free mental health service for those in NSW, ACT, and Victoria who have been impacted by the coronavirus.
- Research the services provided by your state government.
In an emergency, always call 000.
If it isn’t an emergency, a doctor can provide assistance and resources to help you stay mentally healthy and robust. Nearly all Australians will need emotional and mental support at some point in their lives, and your doctor can help to assess your mental health, plan an appropriate response, refer you to a mental health professional, and provide you with prescriptions for medicine if appropriate. Too many people attempt to take this journey on their own. As a discounted pharmacy, we care about your health, and so really encourage you to bring in the support that you need.
But what about wellbeing?
You may have noticed something ironic about this article. It starts by saying that mental health is more than just the absence of negative elements … and then immediately it provides information about what to do when you are experiencing negative mental health conditions.
Well, now let’s think through some of the factors that can strengthen your overall mental wellbeing. We might call these preventative measures, because they can decrease your chance of developing a mental health condition in the future, and can help you to manage any current mental health conditions. Another way to think of them is as boosting measures: they will help to support and enhance your mental health.
- Maintain strong connections with those around you
You are probably familiar with this phrase: no man is an island. Ignore the gender-exclusive phrasing, but pay attention to the underlying message: every person should be connected to a bigger community.
Our society likes to praise those who go their own way, who chart their own course, who strike out on their own even when all of society stands against them. Of course, there is something that we should admire about mavericks and innovators, but humans aren’t designed to be alone. We work best in community, something that you can’t order over the internet through a discounted pharmacy (sorry).
Cultivate relationships based on respect, trust, and open communication. People with healthy relationships shaped by these tend to have better mental health outcomes. You might consider:
- Joining a local sports team
- Finding a group that shares your interests
- Getting involved in the local community through volunteer organisations and participation in charities
- Reconnecting with old friends or those that you have lost contact with during the pandemic
- Make a habit of showing appreciation to those around you, reaching out to apologise when appropriate, and communicating your thoughts and feelings in a warm and non-judgemental manner.
- Borrow from the emerging field of neuroscience and positive psychology
There is an ever-growing body of research about what makes for excellent mental wellbeing. In the past, researchers were interested in what disrupted good mental health. Increasingly, psychologists, psychiatrists, and academics are interested in the things that have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Research suggests that the following might help you:
- Practice gratitude often. Build thankfulness into your routine. You might like to keep a brief journal where you note a handful of positive things that you noticed each day. You might want to share with family or friends over a meal once a week, recapping the highlights of the past seven days – the sound of the waves at the beach, the positive interaction with a difficult colleague, the tickets you purchased for an interstate holiday.
- Cultivate a sense of optimism. Research shows that optimistic patterns of thinking are protective factors that can strengthen your overall mental wellbeing. Practicing gratitude tends to look back; practicing optimism looks forward. They are two sides to the same coin, with one facing the past and the other facing the future. Both work together to strengthen your wellbeing in the present. One way to build your sense of optimism is to monitor your self-talk. How do you speak to yourself about the future? Is it positive or negative?
- Give back to others. Basically, serving others has a double effect: it helps them, and it helps us. Research suggests that acting for the sake of others – even in small ways, like recognising the contributions of a co-worker or praising a family member – can increase our own levels of happiness. You may also consider volunteering your time in the community.
- Don’t neglect your physical health
There are two dangers when it comes to mental wellbeing.
The first danger is to never think about mental wellbeing at all.
The second danger is to imagine that the body is little more than a fancy transportation device from your brain. We might imagine that our brain is like a laptop and our body is merely the bag we use to carry it from place to place.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, far from being entirely disconnected, our brain and our body are integrated in profound and sometimes surprising ways (if you want to learn something that will absolutely change the way you think about your brain and your body, do a little research on how your gut shapes the way that you think).
For this reason, it’s important to exercise regularly, eat healthily, and speak to a medical professional if there are other areas of your physical health that could be addressed. We’re a discounted pharmacy, so we’re always looking for ways to lower prices … but your health is priceless. Look after it!