Having good mental health doesn’t just mean being free of mental illness. During Mental Health Month, let’s take a moment to think about the things we can all do to help ourselves feel good and function well in the world.
What do we mean by ‘mental health’? Good mental health is a state of wellbeing where you can:
- achieve your potential
- cope with normal daily challenges
- study and work effectively
- make a positive contribution to your community.
Mental health is complex and different for everyone. But in general, people with a good standard of mental health tend to:
- feel optimistic
- set achievable goals
- enjoy strong self-esteem
- face new situations with confidence
- feel connected to others and like they can make a difference
- have a sense of purpose and satisfaction in their lives.
So, what are some things we can do to support our own mental health and be a good role model for others?
Seek help if you need it
If you are experiencing mental health concerns, reach out to someone who can support you. This might be a family member, trusted friend, teacher or mentor. It could also be a trusted GP, a headspace centre, or a helpline such as Dolly’s Dream Support Line on 0488 881 033, Lifeline 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.
In an emergency, call triple zero (000).
Take care of your physical self
Our quality of sleep makes a big difference to our state of mind. It helps to:
- keep a regular sleeping routine
- avoid caffeine and screens before bed
- do relaxing things before bed, such as reading or taking a hot bath
- get fresh air and sunshine doing the day
- keep bedrooms dark and comfortable
- keep tech devices out of bedrooms at night
- seek help if you are having problems like insomnia or interrupted sleep.
It’s also important to nourish ourselves with foods that help us to stay healthy, such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and plenty of water, while avoiding or reducing alcohol or other drugs.
Physical exercise is also important to good mental health. It helps to find activities that are fun, connect us with other people, and can be included into our regular routine.
Honour the things that matter to you
Take a moment to reflect on the things that make you feel happy, confident, peaceful, proud or connected to others – things that lift your spirit. These things are different for everyone, but they might include volunteering, hiking, surfing, gardening, reading, art, music or caring for animals.
When we can find ways to build those things into our routine, it helps nourish our mental health.
Set goals and celebrate ‘wins’
When we can set goals, reach them, and celebrate our achievements, it helps us to feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Goals can range from ‘big things’ like finishing a study qualification to ‘small’ things like mowing the lawn.
The best goals are clear, specific and achievable, set within a realistic timeframe or routine, and in line with our personal values. For example, you might decide ‘I value my friendships and staying active, so every Sunday morning I’m going running with my friend Toni.’
At the same time, it’s important to be kind to ourselves when we don’t succeed. Self-compassion and learning from our mistakes are important skills.
And let’s celebrate our achievements! This doesn’t just mean throwing a big bash to mark those great milestones (although that can be terrific!). It also means taking time regularly to notice what we’ve achieved and give ourselves credit. One simple thing families can do is go around the dinner table every night and ask each person to name one thing they did today that made them proud.
Nurture connections to others
We’re more likely to feel connected, supported and valued when we spend time with people we care about, who also care about us. Positive relationships are two-way, where both people respect, support and care about each other.
To help build and sustain good relationships, we can:
- build quality time with loved ones into our routine, such as Sunday lunch with the family.
- spend time with others in an organised way (if that works for you), such as a social club, sporting team, music group, or volunteering.
- remind each other of sweet or funny memories of good times you’ve spent together.
- tell friends and family the things you appreciate about them – eg. ‘I love the way you can make me laugh’ or ‘I admire your passion for helping others’.
- speak honestly about how things are going and how you’re feeling. Check our R U OK? for tips on opening up a conversation with someone, especially if you’re worried about them.