Understanding the importance of good mental health in your overall wellness is vital. In this shortened segment - adapted from ReMark's Five Pillars of Health white paper - we explore what impacts mental health and the risks of not taking care of yours.
Our mental health is integral to all aspects of our health, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring that ‘there is no health without mental health’.
It defines mental health as ‘a general state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.
As well as an absence of mental health disorders, good mental health is about having a positive sense of wellbeing. This can affect everything we do, from our lifestyle choices to how we deal with challenges and change.
The numbers are huge. Mental health disorders have been rising over the past three decades according to the Global Burden of Disease Study. In 1990, there was an estimated 654.8 million people with mental health disorders: by 2019, the number had increased by 48.1%, with 970.1 million people affected.
Given these statistics, it’s not surprising that the probability of experiencing a mental health issue is relatively high too. Nearly one in six of us will have a common mental health issue such as depression or anxiety at some point in our lives.
Risks of poor mental health
Poor mental health has serious implications for an individual’s health and wellbeing. People with mental disorders have a mortality rate that is 2.22 times higher than those without.
14.3% of deaths worldwide are attributed to mental health problems.
Poor mental health pushes up the risk of many serious conditions including obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. As an example, studies have found that mental health issues are linked with an increased risk of up to 54% of developing coronary heart disease, with common mental health conditions such as anxiety and stress increasing the risk by 41% and 27% respectively.
Some of this increased risk is likely to be caused by the interplay between our mental health and lifestyle choices. Feel depressed or anxious and you are much less likely to do the things that benefit your health such as eat a healthy diet, exercise and socialise.
Neglecting all these other aspects of our health as a result of poor mental health then pushes up the risk of developing other health issues. For example, common cancer risk factors include being overweight, smoking, alcohol consumption, inadequate sleep and a lack of physical activity – all of which can be linked to mental health problems.
Influences on our mental health
Positive lifestyle habits can help to foster good mental health and wellbeing. To help determine what works, it’s important to look at how our mental health is affected by other elements of our health and lifestyle.
- The impact of physical activity
Exercise can enhance mood, reduce stress, decrease anxiety and lower risk for depression. Studies have found that just 10 minutes’ physical activity a day is enough to see improvements in mood.
Beating the daily 10,000 step target can also deliver big benefits. Research has found that while there is a 5.36% improvement in stress among those reaching their 10,000 step target, the improvement increased to 10.13% among those who exceeded the target.
10,000 daily steps can lead to a 5.36% reduction in stress.
Even gentler exercise such as yoga and stretching can be just as effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
- The impact of sleep
Sleep and mental health are closely linked, with poor sleep contributing to mental health issues, and mental health issues leading to sleep problems.
Good sleep is important for our mental wellbeing. One study found people with insomnia are two times more likely to develop depression than individuals without sleep difficulties. Our mental health benefits by changing bedtime habits to improve sleep quality, with research finding that people reported fewer incidences of depression and stress. 
- The impact of body weight
Results from several studies have shown a link between weight and mental health and wellbeing. One found that being overweight or obese was linked with increased risks of depression and anxiety disorders at 27% and 55% respectively.
The relationship works the other way too. Someone with depression has a 20% higher risk of being overweight and 58% risk of being obese.
- The impact of mindfulness
Practices involving mindfulness – a technique where you focus on the present moment while acknowledging and accepting your own thoughts and feelings – can be useful for people with mental health issues. Its effectiveness has been shown in several studies, delivering results such as reduction in perceived stress, alleviation of depressive symptoms and a reduction in disorder severity. 
1. Get active: Physical activity can enhance mood and reduce the risk of mental health problems. And, while a serious commitment to exercise brings the biggest benefits, you will also see results if you can only manage 10 minutes a day or prefer something gentler.
2. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight can increase the risk of mental health issues so aim to keep within a healthy weight range. Getting active (see above) and eating a healthy diet – where food can boost your mood – can help achieve this goal.
3. Be mindful: Mindfulness can benefit your wellbeing as well as being useful for people with mental health issues, reducing the symptoms of stress and depression. Spending some time focusing on the present could deliver long-term health benefits.
4. Make it social: Human beings are social animals so it makes sense that spending time with friends and family is good for our mental health. A good natter can quash feelings of loneliness and isolation, boosting your mood and reducing the risk of depression and other mental health issues.
5. Sleep on it: Good sleep benefits our mental health and wellbeing. Adopting healthy sleep habits such as a regular bedtime and avoiding heavy meals and caffeine before you go to bed (see our chapter on sleep for more details) can bolster all aspects of your health, including your mental health.
6. Find support: Having a good support network is critical when facing life’s challenges or your mood dips. This support could come from friends and family but it might also be through a company employee assistance programme or a mental health app.
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