The Doctor Is In: World Mental Health Day, A Time for Reflection

The Doctor Is In is an occasional series where JHU Press authors discuss the latest developments and news in health and medicine.

Guest post by Susan J. Noonan, M.D., M.P.H.

Thursday, October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a time for each of us to reflect on our own mental health and the relationships that we nurture.

In the United States, October 10 is also National Depression Screening Day, a community-based program that raises awareness, screens people for depression and anxiety disorders, and provides referral information for treatment. Depression is one of the most common and disabling conditions worldwide, affecting fifteen percent of the population at any given time. It affects all areas of functioning, including thinking, sleep, appetite, energy, mood, motivation, self-esteem, judgment, and hopefulness. Take a moment to get yourself or your loved ones screened for this common condition. Then, if needed, take steps to find effective treatment. Remember that depression is a biologically-based medical condition and not a character flaw, sign of weakness, or source of shame!

World Mental Health Day is a time for each of us to consider what we do every day to maintain our own emotional health, and where we could improve. Maintaining mental health for all of us begins with sticking to the Basics of Mental Health—first, by taking care of your physical health and using any prescribed medications, then by getting enough (and regular) sleep, sticking to a healthy diet and daily exercise program, having a structure and routine to your day, keeping up with regular social contacts, and avoiding isolation. These are all essential pieces of the puzzle. Make sure that you attend to the important relationships in your life, even when you are not feeling well or are “too busy.” Pay attention to those special people mindfully, in the moment when you are with them, instead of allowing your mind to wander around to other things. You may also want to limit contact with those persons whose relationships you feel are toxic to your sense of well-being.

Protecting your emotional health also means that you add positive experiences to your day and not merely remove the negative ones. Do whatever pleases you, or used to please you: listening to (or making) music, creating art, observing nature, going for a walk, playing with your dog, gardening, watching a funny movie, making and eating a delicious meal, knitting, woodworking—the list goes on and on. It is important that you make time in your day to do positive, pleasurable things; they are beneficial, even vital, to your emotional health, and not just a superficial luxury. It’s an added bonus if one or two of them are a little challenging for you to do, like learning a new skill such as playing the piano, knitting, or speaking a new language. Stretching yourself in this way brings a unique sense of accomplishment and self-esteem that comes from within.

Everybody has ups and downs to their days and weeks, whether or not they have depression. Sometimes it is how you choose to deal with those bumps at the moment that makes a difference. Tending to your mental health means that you learn effective coping skills that work for you. Coping skills are the things you can do during stressful or challenging times that help to lessen the effect of these stressors. Take a moment for self-soothing activities, mindfulness, and relaxation exercises. I have outlined how to perform these coping skills in my book Managing Your Depression: What You Can Do to Feel Better.

It is of interest that World Mental Health Day and National Depression Screening Day come at the time of year right before a big stressor that many of us feel: the oncoming holiday season. Use the time now to tune-up your mental health skills, and watch for my next blog post on how to deal with the holidays!

noonanSusan J. Noonan, M.D., M.P.H., is a board certified physician who currently works as a consultant to Massachusetts General Hospital and CliGnosis, Inc. Managing Your Depression: What You Can Do to Feel Better is now available from JHU Press.

To read more from Dr. Noonan, click here.