A Brief Introduction to Mental Health
Mental Health Defined
According to the World Health Organisation, the term "mental health" refers to an individual's emotional capacity to successfully adapt to the stressors of everyday life
Stigma and Mental Health
Stigma is considered a social construct and is defined as negative beliefs about a characteristic that an individual has
Stress and Trauma
"Stress" refers to the mental distress that individuals develop when reacting to their environment. This happens to almost everyone and often does not indicate a mental disorder or mental health problem. Stress can be a normal response that enables one to cope with the issue at hand but stress as a response is only beneficial when it is short-lived
Trauma and stress are relevant to the South African context because they affect both the individual lives and communities in South Africa. For example, some South Africans may have chronic stress about unemployment while also experiencing violent, traumatic events intheir communities. Experiencing a reality like this increases the risk of developing mental illnesses.
Positive Mental Health
It is common for people to avoid dealing with their stress or trauma due to not knowing how to cope or finding the trauma too painful to confront. Due to this, individuals often partake in unhealthy behaviours, which in turn impact their mental health. Although these mechanisms may seem adequate at first, they often lead to detrimental consequences that worsen mental health
There are ways we can improve our mental health so that we partake in beneficial coping strategies – this is known as "positive mental health" and refers to an individual's emotional, psychological, and social well-being. There are three major domains that can enable positive mental health, namely; physical health, social connection and mindset. Physical health is vital and involves improved eating, sleeping and exercising because these three activities help develop and maintain good mental health. Connecting with friends and family can also improve mental health. This is because communication helps relieve stress and allows for a healthy way of releasing worrying thoughts. Finally, finding a sense of purpose can help improve mental health functioning. Engaging in activities that benefit others, such as caregiving, volunteering and caring for animals, can help bring meaning to life.
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The Mental Health Foundation. (2020). How to Manage and Reduce Stress. UK: The Mental Health Foundation
Seedat, M., Van Niekerk, A., Jewkes, R., Suffla, S., & Ratele, K. (2009). Violence and injuries in South Africa: prioritising an agenda for prevention.
Seedat, M., Van Niekerk, A., Jewkes, R., Suffla, S., & Ratele, K. (2009). Violence and injuries in South Africa: prioritising an agenda for prevention. The Lancet, 374 (9694), 1011-1022.
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