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5 Ways to be proactive about maintaining your mental health

July is Mental Illness Awareness Month, which is an excellent time to reflect on how important our mental health is to our general well-being. In our fast-paced modern world that’s flooded with technology, we're more isolated than ever from each other. So, it's not surprising that health issues are becoming increasingly common across all sectors of society.

According to the World Health Organization, one in four people globally will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. The International Labour Organization also reports that about 264 million people suffer from depression, costing the global economy $1 trillion annually in lost productivity.

Locally speaking, Fedhealth Medical Scheme reported that hospital admissions for mental health conditions were the second highest admission category in 2023, with the average patient spending just over ten days in hospital. So, what can we do to take responsibility for ensuring our mental health? Here are five places to start:

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Get help early

Most mental health practitioners stress the importance of early detection and intervention as critical ways to manage mental health. With a proactive approach, treatment is more effective, which improves your overall quality of life. Rather than waiting until you feel completely overwhelmed and unable to seek help, getting help with more minor issues early on can prevent them from escalating to unmanageable levels.

Getting help early on also minimises the potential disruption in your life—whether it's taking time off work, needing to be hospitalised, or getting support with childcare or basic everyday tasks. Once you've got the help you need, ensure that you have an ongoing support structure in place, whether it's a support group, regular check-ins with your doctor, or getting your family and friends on board.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

The conversation around mental health has changed for the better over recent years, particularly since the Covid pandemic. Thankfully, it’s become more acceptable now to talk more openly about mental health challenges, with less judgment and stigma attached. There are also far more resources available to get the support you need, whether you do it online or in person. If you belong to a medical aid such as Fedhealth, your mental health benefit includes membership to the October Health app, which provides a range of services such as digital group sessions, assessments and insights for your specific situation, as well as a library of educational content on mental health conditions, performance and well-being.

Implement a good work/life balance

Mental illness is a significant disruptor in your work and career and can affect your job satisfaction, performance and productivity. In fact, recent studies have shown that workplace stress is one of the most significant stressors for individuals, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. While work is important, balancing this with breaks and time off to reduce stress and prevent burnout is even more critical. With this in mind, are you taking the leave days owed to you? Are you sticking to regular working hours and taking breaks in the evenings and on weekends? Making sure you implement balance in your everyday life can help prevent more significant mental health crises that can be highly disruptive to both your personal life and your career.

If you're an employer, poor mental health among your employees can also mean increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and, ultimately, higher staff turnover rates. In this way, mental health in the workplace not only benefits society but also helps create a strategic advantage for businesses.

Get personalised advice

Everyone’s life situation is different – so what may work for one person to ensure their mental health may not be as effective as another. It's essential to weigh up your unique circumstances and stressors, for example, whether you're a parent, what kind of job you have, and what your financial situation is. Weighing these up can help you decide what kind of support will be most helpful for you, and what changes will have the most impact. A life coach or counsellor can help you figure this out – and in some cases, your company may also be able to give you access to these kinds of mental health resources, such as mental health assessments and counselling services.

Track your progress

Mental health progress can be gradual, so it can be easy to feel discouraged if you're not seeing or feeling changes as quickly as you like. Keep a journal or tracker to note changes in your feelings, thoughts and attitudes from week to week. Tracking your progress in this way can help you see your progress over time.

Mental Illness Awareness Month is a powerful reminder of the importance of mental health: it encourages conversations about it, reduces stigma, and promotes the resources available for those in need. As an individual, you can also take these simple steps to manage your mental health challenges better so that your life is happier, more fulfilling, and more joyful overall.

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