Prevention is better than treatment: Are we ready to say the same for Mental Wellbeing?

What would you do if your loved one was experiencing difficulty breathing? The likely scenario is that you would urge them to visit the doctor at their earliest convenience. If they show some resistance to this idea, it is likely you might even go with them yourself. On New Year’s Eve, we often make resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, get fitter – all in an attempt to improve our quality of life and our physical wellbeing. We invest a lot of time and resources into taking steps to decrease our chances of having impaired physical health as we grow older, even for cosmetic purposes. We even remember to get our cars booked in for servicing to make sure they’re in tip-top shape!

In contrast, we tend to be a lot more lax when it comes to our mental health. It seems to feel a lot more daunting to book a session with a therapist, the same way we would proactively book regular checkups and health screening. For many, it is even more daunting to share their mental health concerns with a relative/friend, the same way they may share details about an ache in their leg they’ve been having for a few days. How can we start taking the same proactive approach for our mental health that we take for our physical health? We can start tuning into our mental wellbeing by taking a closer look at:

  • The duration of your feelings/behaviour. If you have started feeling more anxious in your day-to-day life, have you been feeling this way for a long time?
  • How your ability to function or enjoy your daily life has been affected. If you are anxious, are you finding difficulty getting your day’s work done or being at ease in your usual social situations?
  • How different is this new behaviour or feeling from your usual feeling or behaviour?

The first step in taking a proactive approach to your mental health is to stop ignoring any imbalances in your mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, a significant number of people tend to ignore their worsening mental health until they find themselves in a difficult place. For example, on average, couples tend to seek counselling 7 years after a problem has been going on. This reactive approach to mental health has its drawbacks: often, atypical behaviour as a result of poor mental health can cause conflict within families and social circles. The avoidance and isolation that come with ignoring your mental health are also statistically more likely to increase it in severity.

Fortunately, a gradually increasing social acceptance of seeking counselling as well as advances in telehealth make it easy for you to have even one-off sessions with a counsellor to point you in the right direction. Prevention can ease the need for interventions (that are often long and costly) for a problem that has worsened over months or years – ‘toughing it out’ is not a solution. Whether in person or through telehealth, we will begin to see improved relationships at home and work; more personal empowerment, optimism, and hope; and a happier and healthier lifestyle.

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