As challenging as COVID-19 has been, one good thing that many of us have gained is that it has forced us to question our survival, take a deeper look within and consider our mental health – something that we may have previously taken for granted.

In the quest for managing our mental health, a new discipline has emerged coined as Mental Hygiene.

Mental hygiene is a form of preventive maintenance that can be likened to other hygienic practices.

Through the plasticity of the brain, mental training activities can foster healthy cognitive patterns that are conducive to well-being. So, what is good mental hygiene?

Having good mental health is about feeling positive about ourselves and others, being able to form good relationships, and having the resilience to overcome challenges.

Good mental health can also be characterized by a person’s ability to fulfill several key functions and activities, including the ability to learn. the ability to feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions and to live life with a level of self-control instead of allowing circumstance to control your emotional barometer.  To achieve this, we need to have a level of inner peace, be motivated by care, compassion, respect, and love for ourselves and for others.  It also requires that we be patient when confronted with human imperfections, as well as with the challenges that come with the unpredictability that life may bring our way.

So, what is the difference between mental health and mental hygiene?

It might surprise you that the term ‘mental health’ is frequently misunderstood. Mental health is often used as a substitute for mental health conditions – such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other conditions. But according to the World Health Organization, mental health is

“a state of well-being in which every 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”.

WELLNESS RATHER THAN ILLNESS

To make things a bit clearer, some experts have tried coming up with different terms to explain the difference between ‘mental health’ and ‘mental health conditions.

Phrases such as ‘good mental health’, ‘positive mental health’, ‘mental wellbeing’, ‘subjective wellbeing, and even ‘happiness’ have been proposed by various experts to emphasise that mental health is about wellness rather than illness. Rather than being about what’s the problem, it’s really about what’s going well?

 UNDERSTANDING THE MENTAL HEALTH CONTINUUM

Experts have also tried to explain the difference between mental health and mental health conditions by talking about a range or a continuum where mental health is at one end, represented by feeling good and functioning well, through to severe symptoms of mental health conditions at the other. Mental health is not fixed or in a static state, and we can move back and forth along this scale at different times during our lives.

  • GREEN: At the green end of the continuum, people are well – showing resilience and high levels of wellbeing.
  • YELLOW: Moving into the yellow area, people may start to have difficulty coping.
  • ORANGE: In the orange area, people have more difficulty coping and symptoms may increase in severity and frequency.
  • RED: At the red end of the continuum, people are likely to be experiencing severe symptoms and may be at risk of self-harm or suicide.

It’s important to remember that mental health is complex. The fact that someone is not experiencing a mental health condition doesn’t necessarily mean their mental health is flourishing. Likewise, it’s possible to be diagnosed with a mental health condition while feeling well in many aspects of life.

Ultimately, mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally, and socially healthy in the way we think, feel and develop relationships – and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.

EXAMPLE OF GOOD MENTAL HYGIENE PRACTICES

At the core of all the activities that can help foster good mental hygiene practices is the ability to learn to relax and do things and connect with activities that give us joy. While all these issues are common sense, the key is to program and make time to engage with such activities. 

For example, how regularly do you take time to:

  • listening and really enjoy music you love?
  • Watching a TV program, sit back, remove all distractions, relax and truly enjoy it.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as a deep breathing exercise, meditation, or mindfulness techniques allowing them to help you manage anxiety and release negative or intrusive thoughts.
  • Get involved with your garden.
  • Catching up for drinks with a friend.
  • Spend quality time with a family member or play with a pet.
  • Take time out to have a massage or a facial, or even book yourself to have a pedicure and a foot massage.

Taking charge of our own mental hygiene can be as simple as ensuring that we take time out to do the things that truly love and enjoy, but on a regular basis.  

WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE?

When we talk about mental health in the workplace, we’re looking at how our working environment affects us – either positively or negatively – as well as the effect our mental health has on our ability to do our work.

Work can make us feel good about ourselves and give us a sense of purpose, which helps to protect and improve our mental health. On the other hand, factors like job stress, bullying, or discrimination can trigger a mental health condition or cause an existing condition to worsen.

Some people’s experience of a mental health condition will have no direct connection with their work – they might have been managing their conditions for a while. For example, while working in different jobs. Equally, personal or relationship issues might result in someone developing a mental health condition, regardless of what’s going on at work.

But whatever the factors contributing to someone developing a mental health condition, workplaces can play a key role by being flexible, providing support, and creating an environment where people feel comfortable raising their concerns and reaching out when they need it.

A healthy person is a productive person; they’re engaged, they feel safe, they appreciate that they are cared for and this encourages them to remain focused on the job and look at ways of constantly improving.

So, how can we foster mental hygiene in the workplace?

As we saw above, good mental hygiene practice involves the ability to learn to relax and connect with activities that help you experience joy.  Establishing a mental hygiene program in the workplace can include a few generic practices, as well as some that are unique to your team.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Implement and reinforce education on the importance of good posture
  2. Share knowledge on healthy eating
  3. Taking proper time to eat slowly and in a relax state
  4. Taking scheduled breaks to relax and recharge
  5. Making sure to hydrate regularly by drinking sufficient quantities of pure water
  6. Introducing stress-relieving essential oils in the staff room
  7. Including a comfortable armchair for staff to relax when feeling stressed
  8. Encouraging exercise, movement and fitness
  9. Setting the personal grooming standard in your workplace – encouraging pride in their appearance.

You could further customise a mental hygiene program by investigating what brings the most joy to each of your staff members.  Simple things, such as learning about:

  • Their favourite food
  • Their favourite desert
  • What music they enjoy the most
  • Their favourite colour
  • Their favourite drink
  • What flowers they love the most
  • Their favourite fragrance
  • What hobbies they enjoy the most.

Armed with this information use your imagination to create surprise moments when you choose to use these elements to bring joy to your staff member and show them that you care about them.

The key to mental hygiene, both for yourself and for others, is to identify self-care and joyful activities and systemizing them to ensure you routinely engage with them. 

Standing with you

Tina Viney

CEO – APAN