We all have mental health and, at some point, each of us will experience symptoms of poor mental health. Mental health is fluid in that it changes, moving back and forth along a continuum. Sometimes, changes to our mental health may affect our ability to carry out our normal daily activities and affect our sense of wellbeing. This doesn’t mean that we will all be diagnosed with a mental health condition or need urgent medical intervention. Symptoms can vary in severity and length as can our support needs.

Pouring from an empty cup

When we think about mental health awareness, it’s easy to forget to include ourselves in the 1 in 4 people who will experience a mental health issue each year. Part of breaking down stigma is recognising that we all have mental health and, at some point, we may all benefit from support.

Although most of us agree that it is essential to support someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue, as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Doing so may result in higher stress levels, burnout or increased risk of mental illness. If we are to be capable of supporting friends, family or colleagues, we need to care for our own mental health first.

When others rely on us for support, the concept of self-care can seem selfish. Self-care is about protecting your mental health, wellbeing and happiness whereas selfishness involves a lack of consideration for others.

The mental health barometer

How do we recognise the early warning signs that our own mental health may need attention? One way is to use the below points as a barometer to assess the quality of our mental health:

1. How we feel, think, and behave
2. How we cope with the ups and downs of everyday life
3. How we feel about ourselves and our life
4. How we see ourselves and our future
5. How we deal with negative things that happen in our life
6. Our self-esteem or confidence
7. How stress affects us

For example, how we feel, think and behave can indicate whether we are experiencing good mental health. Changes to these factors can also be a sign that our mental health may need additional support.

Using the barometer can help us to become more self-aware about the fluctuating state of our mental health. It may also help us to reflect on and learn from past situations and consider how we may feel and cope with future stressors and life events.

Risk factors for poor mental health

Factors that may negatively impact our mental health and causes changes to our barometer include:

  • severe or long-term stress

  • social isolation or loneliness

  • experiencing discrimination and stigma

  • social disadvantage, poverty or debt

  • bereavement or loss

  • long-term physical health condition

  • childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect

  • unemployment or losing your job

  • homelessness or poor housing

  • being a long-term carer

  • drug and alcohol misuse

  • domestic violence, bullying or other abuse as an adult

  • significant trauma as an adult e.g., being the victim of a violent crime

  • physical causes – e.g., head injury

Understanding when our mental health and wellbeing are at risk means that we can intervene early and take steps to support ourselves. This includes asking for help from friends, family, colleagues and professionals such as GPs.

Looking after our own mental health sets a positive example to others and means that we are better placed to give support to friends, family and colleagues.

To discuss how your organisation would benefit from training and support, email hello@thriveandwell.co.uk.

You can also check out our mental health at work training options.

Mind the Charity, MHFA England