Improve your mental health with a few small changes

  Back to articles Improve your mental health with a few small changes

Depression can affect all of us at different times and in many different ways, but what steps can you take to minimise your chances of feeling depressed? Circumstances have a large part to play in affecting your mood, and often factors beyond our control, such as family, finances, career and illness or injury can lead to depression. But we are not powerless. There are a number of steps we can take to stimulate positive chemicals in our brains that can help to stave off depression and suicidal thoughts. You may even find yourself in a happier, more positive place just by adopting two or three simple life changes…

Exercise: your brain produces certain chemicals when you exercise that make you feel happier and more relaxed. Even a brisk 20-minute walk, stimulating blood flow and raising the heart rate can help. Try to exercise at least three times a week, especially outdoors and in moderate sunlight. Group classes at the local gym can lead to a more fulfilling social life and friendship groups, and regular exercise will naturally lead to a healthier lifestyle and more positive life choices.

Daylight: Especially in the winter months, reduced exposure to sunlight is thought to lower serotonin (our ‘happiness” hormone) levels. Less daylight may also increase our production of melatonin, a hormone which makes us feel sleepy. Combined, these two events can make us feel ‘sluggish’ and ‘low’. Try to expose yourself to as much daylight as possible, especially in the winter months - preferably combined with exercise. It is also possible to purchase light boxes designed to stimulate exposure to sunlight.

Talking: Talk therapy is the primary treatment for people who have attempted suicide. But it is also a vital preventative. If a friend, colleague or family member asks you directly if you’re depressed or considering suicide, this may well be a vital lifeline. You are not being a burden by sharing your concerns or worries, and in most cases, simply being listened to can make an enormous difference. Bottled-up feelings breed and grow, and can become all-consuming, so it is essential to talk. There are many charities reachable by telephone or drop-in centre where volunteers are trained to listen and offer a level of counselling or can direct you to more focused support. A list of telephone numbers for charities in the UK are listed below.

Diet: We know that the wrong foods, too much fat or sugar or fast food will have a negative impact on our health and can cause mood spikes. Improving your diet may help to improve your mood, give you more energy and help you think more clearly. You can take daily steps to improve your mental health simply by cutting back on ‘junk’ (sugar, alcohol, soft drinks, fast and fatty food) and increasing the quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet. Try to eat small portions regularly to maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Alcohol: A known depressant, alcohol is a drug that reduces the ability to think and distorts judgment. Long-term use interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are vital for good mental health. Regular drinking lowers the levels of serotonin in your brain and increases your chances of developing depression. Instead of reaching for a drink at the end of the day, try to use exercise or relaxation techniques instead. Minimise your use of alcohol, and consider your need for each drink before you pour.

Drugs: Recreational drug users often notice changes in their moods. This is because different drugs affect different neurotransmitters. For example, cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy affect dopamine, while are serotonin levels are reduced by LSD and ecstasy. Temporary euphoria may be felt, but these drugs severely deplete our resources of these ‘happy’ hormones and ultimately result in depressive mood swings. Long term recreational drug use can cause severe depression.

With limited government resources, but a growing need for suicide help, The Better Company has launched the Better Stop Suicide app aimed at those who are experiencing or have experienced suicidal thoughts. Designed to help sufferers work through their suicidal thoughts, the innovative and life-saving app equips users with the trigger to stop and think, to revisit personal affirmations and to find a calm place for rational reflection. It is also a portal to direct professional help, guidance and proven psychological techniques to prevent suicide.