Good mental health is not merely living without mental illness. Good mental health means feeling good and more. It means you are able to cope with the stresses that life throws at you. Characteristics of good mental health include being optimistic and feeling good about yourself, being confident in new situations and with new people, setting realistic goals, not repeatedly blaming yourself for setbacks, and generally maintaining high self-esteem. Maintaining good mental health is easier when life is easier. But maintaining good mental health in difficult times is the most important.
Maintaining Mental Health in the Face of Adversity
At No Fallen Heroes we dedicate ourselves to the reduction and elimination of veteran suicide. Maintaining good mental health in the face of continuing adversity is especially important for veterans of military service. These heroes have served the nation and have been exposed to trauma and stress far beyond those faced in normal civilian life. Traumatic brain syndrome, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder all have the potential to plague veterans long after they have left military service. Maintaining good mental health in the presence of these difficulties can be a constant challenge. Maintaining good mental health in the face of adversity is also essential for returning to a safe, long, and happy life.
Building and Maintaining Good Mental Health
Like dealing with most challenges in life the task can be difficult or much easier depending on how you address the challenge and the tools that you bring to the job. A key factor in good mental health during good times and bad is the development and maintenance of resilience. This is the ability to roll with the punches. This is when life presents you with lemons and you make lemonade. It is the drawing on inner strength and the ability to reach out for help from others.
How to Develop and Maintain Mental Health Resilience
Resiliency gives you the ability to cope with life’s difficulties and not live in a pool of depression and anxiety. The “tools” we speak of in developing and maintaining resilience are these:
- Building relationships
- Developing gratitude
- Giving to others
- Creating positive flow in your life
- Exercise and maintenance of good physical health
- Identifying and making use of strengths
- Maintaining the spiritual part of your life
- Reaching out for help
Physical Exercise and Mental Health
Exercise and maintenance of physical health not only keeps the body healthy but keeps the mind healthy as well. This should be relatively easy for veterans of military service who generally maintained (or were forced to maintain) an exercise routine while in the service. Those who exercise routinely have less depression and find it easier to maintain a healthy attitude. Add to this regular physical checkups and follow through as needed for any medical issues and you have the first step maintaining good mental health.
Give to Others and Help Yourself
All too often when we focus on our own problems we settle into a downward spiral of negative thinking. A simple way to help prevent this is to get involved in helping others. Making a positive contribution to your community gets you out with people. Basically, doing good things for others makes you feel good about yourself. Whether it is in simple small acts of kindness to a neighbor or volunteering for a community outreach organization focusing part of your life’s efforts outside of yourself has a positive effect on mental health.
Building Relationships Is Healthy
One of the risk factors that contributes to veteran suicide is isolation. Long before falling into isolation work at building relationships. This can be simply keeping up with friends and family or taking time to attend church, involve yourself in community functions, joining recreation-based groups, or simply making sure to say hello and stopping to talk to those whom you see every day. Like giving to others, this takes you outside of yourself and away from daily troubles.
Be Grateful and Feed Your Spiritual Self
An old saying about confronting adversity is to count your blessings. In reality this is a good practice. Make it a habit to routinely write down things that your are grateful for. Feed your spiritual self by praying, meditating, or whatever is your choice for connecting to a higher power. Focusing a bit every day on what is good and fulfilling takes you away from obsessing on the negative aspects of life.
Find and Take Advantage of Your Strengths to Move Your Life Forward
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Take the time to think about what you do well and where you need help. Then make it a point to use your strengths to develop a positive flow in your life that moves you on to good things and keeps you away from negative thoughts.
Admit That You Need Help and Reach Out for It
Nobody is perfect and if truth be told most of use are a long way from perfection. When trouble comes it can be tempting to put on the old self reliance hat and confront your troubles on your own. However, the better route is to get help. This can in to form of good advice, simply having someone to talk to from time to time or help with specific tasks or issues with which you are having difficulties. We mentioned how depression and PTSD are risk factors for suicide. There are effective treatments for these conditions especially with new approaches using psychedelic medicines. But for help maintaining good mental health in difficult times you need to reach out and ask for it!