Improving your mental health
It's impossible to guarantee you will never get a mental health condition, but you can take steps to improve your mental health.
If you're stronger emotionally, you may find it easier to cope with stressful or upsetting incidents, reducing your risk of developing a mental health condition, such as depression, and the risk of suicidal thoughts.
Exercise and diet
Research shows that for some people with mild depression, exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication in reducing depressive symptoms. Being physically active helps to:
- lift your mood
- reduce stress and anxiety
- encourage the release of "feel-good" chemicals, called endorphins
- improve self-esteem
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends exercise should be used to treat depression in people of all ages.
It's also important to eat a healthy diet. Eating healthily may be as important for maintaining mental health as it is for protecting against physical health problems.
Read more about exercise for depression and healthy eating and depression.
Drinking alcohol can be tempting as a way of trying to cope with problems or unpleasant emotions. But alcohol is a depressant, which means it can make unpleasant emotions worse, such as sadness and hopelessness.
To avoid common mental health problems associated with alcohol misuse, don't drink more than the recommended daily limits of alcohol. These are:
- three to four units a day for men
- two to three units a day for women
A unit of alcohol is approximately half a pint of normal-strength lager or a single measure (25ml) of spirits. A small glass of wine (125ml) is 1.5 units.
See your GP if you have difficulty moderating your alcohol consumption.
Read more about alcohol and treating alcohol misuse.
People who have problems or unpleasant emotions also commonly use drugs as a way of coping. However, as with alcohol, persistent drug misuse can increase your risk of developing a serious mental health condition, such as depression.
If you find it difficult to stop taking drugs, you may require counselling or medication.
Read more about getting help for drug misuse.
Becoming socially isolated is a significant risk factor for suicide. Try to remain engaged as much as possible with the world around you. Talk to someone you trust about how you feel and maintain your friendships and interests, even if you don't feel like it at times.
If you find it difficult to make friends, you may benefit from joining a local activity group, such as a book group or walking group. Your local library, community centre or local council should be able to provide you with details of the various groups and clubs in your community.
Networks of local support groups are run throughout the country by many larger mental health charities, including:
Research has shown that people who regularly spend time helping others through charitable activities or other voluntary work are typically more mentally healthy than the general population. You may benefit from volunteering with a local charity or voluntary organisation.
All charities and most voluntary organisations are grateful for any help. Simply choose an issue you feel strongly about and contact a relevant organisation. The most effective way of finding and contacting an organisation is on the internet.
Read more about volunteering.
Staying positive may sound like a meaningless phrase, particularly to someone with severe depression, but it's important to try to remain as positive as possible.
Persistent negative thinking can mean you risk withdrawing from the world and becoming more isolated.
Breaking this pattern usually requires a conscious effort, such as "stepping back" when an event upsets you and considering how you can respond in a more positive way.
If you can't change negative patterns of thinking, you may benefit from a type of talking treatment called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT can help you manage your problems by changing how you think and act.
When you are diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or depression, your GP may recommend trying self-help treatments before having more intensive psychological therapy or medication.
This will usually involve working from a book or computer programme for around six weeks or longer. In some cases, you may be closely supported by a trained therapist who you will speak to every week or two, although some treatments only involve minimal or occasional contact with a therapist who will monitor your progress.
There are a number of different books and courses available that can help you learn to cope with your anxiety, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) only recommends trying treatments based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
CBT is a type of psychological treatment that can help you understand your condition better and how your problems, thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other. The aim of CBT-based treatments is to help you learn ways to manage your anxiety by modifying negative or unhelpful behaviour and thoughts.
Read more about:
Page last reviewed: 09/02/2015
Next review due: 09/02/2017