Mental Health and Physical Health are Inextricably Connected
You take good care of yourself. You go to your annual physical, get your teeth cleaned once every 6 months. But what are you doing to take good care of your mental health? Many of the same healthy practices that we engage in to take care of our physical well-being, also takes care of our mental well-being. After all, the body is a system and when we take care of our body as a whole – as a complete interdependent system – that’s when we truly thrive. And, there are also healthy practices that are specifically strongly linked with positive mental health outcomes. Below is a quick questionnaire that assesses some of the lifestyle characteristics that affect our mental health. This 20 item YES/NO primer questionnaire* will help you see if your mental health hygiene is in good order.
1. Do you feel connected to a community of people?
2. Do you make time for regular trips with friends and family?
3. Do you feel good about your physical appearance?
4. Is there someone in your life who encourages you?
5. Is there someone in your life that gives you positive energy every day?
6. Is your relationship with your partner, or closest friend stronger than ever?
7. Do you feel safe and secure most, if not all of the time?
8. Do you eat healthy most, if not all days? (five or more servings of fruits and vegetables/day)
9. Do you exercise – that is, planned activity that increases your breathing rate and causes you to break a light sweat for at least 30 or more minutes for at least 3 days a week?
10. Do you engage in vigorous exercise – that is, exercising that causes big increases in your breathing or heart rate for at least 20 minutes for at least 3 days a week?
11. Do you smile or laugh a lot?
12. In the next 6 months are you planning on making any changes to your health (ex: get better sleep, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, cope better with stress, etc.)?
13. In the last two weeks, have you been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things for more than half the days, if not daily?
14. Have you been stressed out or worried about your finances in the last 12 months?
15. Do you have any injuries or other health problems that prevent you from doing things that other people your age normally do?
16. Do you have any restrictions that would limit your ability to exercise?
17. Do you take drugs or medication which affect your mood or help you relax?
18. In the last 12 months have you suffered from chronic or recurring pain?
19. Do you have trouble concentrating because of personal problems, worries, depression, anxiety, or financial stress/concerns?
20. Do you feel like you have too much to do and not enough time?
– Give yourself one (1) point for every NO answer on questions 1-12.
– Give yourself one (1) point for every YES answer on questions 13-20.
– Add up your total score.
Interpreting Your Score
If you scored a 0-3, you have excellent mental health hygiene, way to go! You value your health, and have committed to staying healthy because you know that it benefits yourself and all those who interact with you.
If you scored a 4-8, taking greater care of yourself is indicated and it may be a good idea to consult with your physician and/or a qualified licensed mental health professional.
If you scored a 9 or higher, it is strongly recommended that you contact a licensed health professional to get started on making small changes to your lifestyle. If you have health insurance, most insurance companies offer a wealth of resources for healthy living habits and practices. You may even have access to your own health coach as a part of your plan’s benefits. These professionals can work with you to identify which areas in your life are causing you the most distress and help co-create a plan to begin making changes that will benefit your overall health and well-being. If you do not have health insurance, you can access free or low cost services and/or resources at pharmacies and community health centers.
No matter what year you are reading this in, January is a great month for new beginnings and opportunities to follow through on commitments that incrementally improve your overall mental health and well-being. Let this year be a milestone in the story of your life, where you put yourself first so that you can be the best version of yourself, for you, and everyone who interacts with you.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, psychotherapy, or other professional healthcare services, including the giving of medical advice. Note: No therapist patient relationship is formed. The use of this information is at the reader’s own risk. The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Readers should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they have and should seek the assistance of their healthcare professionals for any such conditions.
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.
In the time it will take you to read this article (about 12 minutes), 1 person will have died by suicide (Center for Disease Control