What do we mean by mental health?

A young woman looking down holding her head.

What is mental health?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)(n.d.) mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Our mental health “affects how we think, feel, and act … and also impacts on how we cope, interact and form relationships with others, as well as our daily functioning”(NHS, n.d.).

There are multiple factors that can impact our mental health, these include:

  • “The number of demands and stressors we have
  • Our physical health
  • Significant life events
  • How much sleep we get
  • Relationships with other people
  • Our diet/ nutritional intake
  • Environmental, societal and cultural factors
  • How much we engage in leisure activities, hobbies and interests” (NHS, n.d.)

It is very important to distinguish the difference between mental health and mental illness. Mental health “can be both positive and negative – you can have good mental health, just as you can have poor mental health”(Bashforth, 2021) and just because you experience periods of poor mental health does not always mean you have a mental illness. “The difference between poor mental health and a mental illness is the nature of and degree to which the difficulties someone is experiencing are having on their wellbeing and functioning (socially, occupationally and academically)” (NHS, n.d.). This means that an important difference between poor mental health and mental illness is that “mental illness typically has more of a significant detrimental impact across many areas of an individual’s life than episodes of poor mental health which may be situation specific or time limited” (NHS, n.d.).

It is also important to note that while the stigma around mental health has improved, it is still very much present within society. There is also a lot of misconceptions about what different diagnosis’ mean which can deter people from talking about their diagnosis to others and feeling isolated. Mind (n.d.) discusses how you can deal with the stigma and misconceptions of mental health problems and shares personal stories of people who have challenge this stigma.

Different communities also experience different issues and barriers, such as racism, homophobia, and ableism, when it comes to mental health which can prevent them from reaching out and seeking professional health. Here are a few resources that talk about the different barriers some communities face when seeking professional mental health help:

5 tips to improve your mental health on bad days

  1. Stay in touch with your loved ones. It is easy to isolate ourselves when we are struggling, but it often helps to talk through our problems and have someone to support us.
  2. Do something you enjoy on a regular basis, whether this be baking a cake, watching your comfort childhood movie or going on a walk in nature. It is important to make sure that you make time for self-care otherwise it is easy to get overwhelmed and burn out.
  3. Try mindfulness. Mindfulness is the “ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” (Mindful, n.d.). Don’t know where to start? Mindful have done an overview of what mindfulness is and how to get started.
  4. Spend more time outdoors. There is evidence that spending more time in nature benefits you both mentally and physically as it reduces feelings of stress and anger, helps you feel more connected to your community and improves your overall mood. More information about how spending time in nature can help to improve your mental health.
  5. Start learning a new skill. The NHS (n.d.) notes that “research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem, helping you to build a sense of purpose and … connect with others”.

More tips on how to improve your mental health.

Where to go if you need support:

There is a large range of support available for you if you are struggling with your mental health within and outside the University of Reading. Here are few examples of where you can go for mental health support:

  • Talk to our Counselling and Wellbeing team who can offer you professional counselling, wellbeing and mental health support.
  • Talk to the Student Welfare team who can help you with any personal difficulties you may experience during your time at the University.
  • The Student Wellness Check – A University of Reading assessment tool that asks you questions and gives you contacts for your needs.
  • Find a local NHS urgent mental health helpline (England only) – NHS urgent mental health helplines are for people of all ages. You can call for: 24-hour advice and support – for you or someone you care for, help to speak to a mental health professional an assessment to help decide on the best course of care.
  • Samaritans – Whatever you’re going through, a Samaritan will face it with you. We’re here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • Talking Therapies – A friendly and approachable NHS service that offers support if you’re coping with challenges like depression, stress, anxiety or phobias. If you’re aged 17 and over and living in Berkshire, we can help you overcome the mental health challenges you’re facing.

For more contacts, visit our University Mental Health Day page on Essentials.

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