Over the past few months the focus of my articles has been on providing education and resources that anyone can use to improve their mental health. My goal with these articles is to increase hope and also to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness.
I wrote about the importance of Psychiatrists maintaining and cultivating hope in a recent article for the American Psychiatric Associations Psychiatric News. You can read the article and my thoughts on the importance of hope, here.
After spending the past few months focusing on hope, I felt a real connection to a lecture I attended this past weekend at a local Psychiatric conference in Arizona. Dr. Rakesh Jain spoke about “Wellness in Psychiatry”. His discussion took my focus on hope and applied it perfectly to the larger topic of Mental Wellness in a way a painter can take a single drop of paint and create a masterpiece. He provides many insights and suggestions that you can utilize to improve your happiness and Mental Wellness that I would like to share with you today.
The main question that Dr. Jain proposes is whether focusing solely on mental illness is enough? He argues that “mental well-being is much more than absence of symptoms of mental illness”. He presented data showing that every person has two separate spectrums of symptoms related to both Mental Illness and Mental Health. These spectrums range from negative/bothersome symptoms to positive/optimal symptoms.
For example, a person may have an anxiety disorder. At anytime their symptoms of mental illness (Anxiety) can range from strongly negative (high anxiety, impairing daily functioning) to strongly positive (absence of symptoms, no anxiety). At the same time this person has a separate set of symptoms related to Mental Wellness. These also range from strongly negative (i.e. poor wellness, distressed, unhappy) to strongly positive (i.e. mentally fit, mentally well, happy, fulfilled). Dr. Jain argues that Mental Health and Mental Wellness are related, however, they also must be addressed independently to achieve both optimal Mental Health (lack of disease) and Mental Wellness (presence of positive wellbeing).
He asked this question to a room of physicians: “While most practicing Psychiatrists have no symptoms of Mental Illness, how many of you would rate your Mental Wellness strongly positive?” This helped everyone to realize how easy it could be to lack disease (Mental Illness) and yet not have Mental Wellness. For example, you can lack Mental Illness but be unhappy in your professional or personal life.
He encouraged us to assess our patients for both Mental Health and Mental Wellness. He cautions about the tendency to stop assessing and assisting patients when their symptoms of Mental Illness subside. For if we do, he cautions that we then neglect to evaluate and improve their Mental Wellness which may continue to be suboptimal. He concludes that if we additionally focus on Mental Wellness, there is an extensive opportunity for us to help patients cultivate their Mental and Physical Health beyond what we or they might have thought possible. Dr. Jain provided extensive evidence which showed that improved Mental Wellness also improves our Physical Health.
Some of the suggestions Dr. Jain provided to improve Mental Wellness included doing more of the things that make us feel good. These activities include: making love, having meaningful conversations, listening to music, meditation, reading and playing with your children. He also proposed being mindful of the activities that decrease our Mental Wellness: working long hours, extensive use of the home computer and having boring or superficial conversations where our minds wander. While it may be impractical to avoid things like working, we can be mindful and make sure we take the time to enjoy more pleasing activities and minimize the ones that detract from our Mental Wellness.
A few more suggestions from Dr. Jain include: Yoga and several books by Martin Seligman Ph.D (“Learned Optimism” and “Authentic Happiness”). Dr. Seligman focuses on topics such as improving “Positive Emotions” and cultivating a “Meaningful” and “Engaged” Life.
For some additional suggestions on ways to improve your Mental Health and Mental Wellness please see my previous posts:
The discussion about cultivating Hope and Mental Wellness motivates me to improve my evaluations and treatments for my patients and motivates me to help them improve both their Mental Health and Mental Wellness. I will help them to focus on cultivating their Physical, Mental and Social wellness as well as targeting the absence of disease. I encourage you to focus on both aspects in your life as well and I hope these resources can be foundation of a better you!