The difference between how we think of medical illness or injury (such as a cold, diabetes, or a broken bone) and mental health is startling. Although there have been improvements over recent years in the stigma surrounding mental health, we still have some ways to go. Recent research on how common mental illness is might go some way to changing how we think.
Almost everyone would have experienced flu, a broken bone, and illness like chickenpox by the time they reach their 40’s. Research is now demonstrating that this is also true when it comes to mental ill-health (in fact, depression and anxiety are often considered the ‘common cold’ of mental health!). It is now thought that if you have not had some form of mental ill-health by middle-age, then it is out of the norm, and you would be in a very small minority!
A recent study by Duke University published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology1 highlights just how unusual it is to not have experienced a mental disorder by the time you are middle-aged. Of 988 people who took part in the study, just 171 of them experienced no anxiety, depression, or other related issues between the ages of 11 and 38. This means that by the age of 38, you could be one of the 83% of people that has experienced mental ill-health of some form.
What is interesting about the study is what the researchers found was associated with stable mental health. Improved mental stability was related to several factors including a healthy social life, and ability to practise self-restraint, and satisfactory relationships. So, this suggests that there are some simple things that we can all do to protect our mental health.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Find an interest that you are passionate about
- Arrange a regular catch up with friends
- Volunteer your time to a good cause
- Show a small kindness to someone
- Practice mindfulness the next time you feel out-of-control
- Schaefer, J. D., et al. (2017). Enduring mental health: Prevalence and prediction. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 126, 212-224.
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