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Although many people are living their lives in a positive state of mental health, mental disorders are commonly occurring and often seriously impairing a significant proportion of the world’s population. This chapter provides information to guide you on how to best manage mental disorders. Whether you are coping with a mental health problem yourself, or would like to help a loved one with a mental health condition – the following pages will give you some tips.

Suffering from a mental health condition is tough for the person with the illness and tough for those around them. The page Tips for Coping proposes some lifestyle changes you can make to help you better deal with a mental health problem. If you’d like to help a friend or family member with a mental health problem but don’t know how, see Tips for Helping.

This section also contains a page dedicated to professional support and self-help resources to assist you on your journey.

Understanding Mental Health

In our everyday lives, we often hear, read or talk about mental health. But what is it that the term actually means? According to the World Health Organization , mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder and is defined as a state of well-being. Being mentally healthy means that you engage in productive activities that help you grow and develop. It means you have fulfilling relationships that make you feel happier, stronger and supported. And most importantly, being mentally healthy means you have the ability to adapt and cope with adversity or stress when it happens.

Although many people the world over are living contented lives in a positive state of mental health, mental disorders are commonly occurring and often seriously impairing a significant proportion of the world’s population. Mental disorders are a general term that can refer to a person’s difficulty with memory or concentration, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Mental disorders also include conditions that severely affect one’s moods, like depression or bipolar disorder. They can also disturb an individual’s behaviour, such as in the case of eating disorders or sleeping disorders. Whether mental disorders affect concentration, mood or behaviour, all cause distress and impaired functioning.

This chapter provides information to guide you on how to best manage mental disorders. Whether you are coping with a mental health problem yourself, or would like to help a loved one with a mental health condition – the following pages will give you some tips. 

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Apart from following your personal treatment plan prescribed by a mental health professional, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to help you better cope with a mental health problem. Here are some tips:

  • Talk about your feelings: Openly expressing your feelings helps you process and recover from hurtful experiences. Repressing your feelings and emotions on the other hand, can cause stress and lead to tension and anxiety.
  • Exercise: You might not feel like it, but exercising five times a week helps you feel better and eases anxiety, stress and depression. Find an activity which suits your level of fitness and that you enjoy, and build it into your routine. 
  • Stay connected with family and friends: Feeling connected to other people is important and can help you to feel valued and confident about yourself. Spend a little more time on building positive relationships that can enrich your life.
  • Eat well: According to the Mental Health Foundation , nutritious food keeps your brain healthy and functioning well, and can have a long-lasting effect on your mental health. Eat a healthy balanced diet which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals or bread, nuts and seeds, dairy product and oily fish. Also, don’t skip any meals and drink plenty of water. 
  • Drink sensibly or not at all: Alcohol can aggravate the symptoms of a mental health problem, leaving you feeling worse.
  • Employ stress management techniques: The National Institute of Mental Health recommends learning stress management techniques such as meditation and deep breathing. These can help to calm you when things get too much and may enhance the effects of therapy. 
  • Learn something new: Learning new things can boost your confidence and provide a healthy alternative to negative or stressful thoughts. You might want to work towards a qualification, do a creative workshop, or learn a new practical skill.
  • Ask for help: If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Reach out to your family or friends or find a local service, such as a support group or counsellor, which can help you.
  • Solve problems step by step: It’s tempting to ignore tasks and problems in the hope that they will go away. Yet avoiding things will feed negative feelings such as anxiety. Instead, look at issues you've got to deal with practically and work on completing them one at a time.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders: Take the medications that are prescribed, as they are prescribed. Make sure to clear any other forms of treatment with your doctor, even if they are natural or herbal remedies, in case they might interact with your current medication.
  • Join a support group: Search out a support group that deals with the issues you are facing. By teaming up with people who share the same challenges, you may find a fresh solution.
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Suffering from a mental health condition is tough for the person with the illness and tough for those around them. If you’d like to help a friend or family member with a mental condition but don’t know how, here are some tips:

  • Learn about their illness: Finding out more information about the illness, particularly in the beginning, is a great help. It will give you insight into what your loved one is going through as well as the route that recovery often takes.
  • Ask the person what they need: Even if your loved one has difficulty telling you what would be helpful, asking how you can support them demonstrates you don’t think you know best and makes room for self-awareness. See if the requests are doable and be honest with what you can take on.
  • Start dialogues, not debates: If your friend or family member doesn’t agree that he or she has an illness, find out why. Listen without trying to change their mind. Instead of engaging in a power struggle, focus on building trust. The exception is in cases where a loved one is in acute psychiatric distress. In this case, getting him or her to the hospital is the wisest and best choice.
  • Help them get treatment: Aid them in their treatment process by driving them to appointments, confirming they have their medications, and making sure they are talking to their doctor or therapist.
  • Be there for them: Check in with them regularly and make sure they are doing okay. Know that even if your actions and love may seem to have little impact– they are making a difference.
  • Have realistic expectations: The recovery process is not a straight course and can take time – so be patient.
  • Seek support groups for family members of those experiencing mental illness: If you are starting to feel that caring is becoming stressful then one of the best things you can do is talk to other people in the same boat as you. Your doctor may even be able to recommend good support groups in your area.
  • Make sure you look after yourself: Watching someone close to you struggle with a mental illness can be really hard on you also. If you need to, seek counselling for yourself. A qualified therapist offers clarity, objectivity, solutions not previously seen and a place to safely deal with the emotions rising from such difficult circumstances. The healthier you are, the better equipped you become to handle demanding situations.
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