Articles on mental health and wellbeing
Mental health is as important as physical health
When was the last time you did something for yourself?
Mental Health Advice
Why do so many people seek mental health advice? What is mental health? Why is mental health so important?
People often think that good mental health is something we either have or don’t have. This isn’t true. There may be times in our lives when our mental health is better. But there will be periods where we may struggle more with our mental health, feeling low, anxious or even tired.
Think of it as a parallel to physical health.
In those months leading up to that marathon, we felt fit and healthy. But then there were those months (or years) of being a couch potato. The world readily – and openly – acknowledges the importance of maintaining good physical health and how it can ebb and flow. Hopefully someday, mental health will catch up.
We could all use some mental health advice and tips every now and then.
This article provides a brief overview to mental health. The first section explains what mental health is, common signs and symptoms of mental health issues, and what constitutes an individual’s mental health. The second section introduces mental health services and treatment options, as well as mental health tips everyone can benefit from.
What Is Mental Health?
The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasises that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders. Mental health is, in fact, an integral part of health. There is no health without mental health.
WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
Do You Have a Mental Health Concern?
How might you be able to tell if you are struggling with a mental health concern? Some common signs of mental health issues or illness are listed in this section. This list is not exhaustive. Neither is it meant to be diagnostic.
Assessment and diagnosis of an illness can only be done by mental health professionals such as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. Seeing a medical doctor or your primary healthcare provider may also be helpful in ruling out other possible causes of your physical symptoms. These are some common signs of mental health issues or illnesses:
If you notice any of these symptoms, seek help early. Don’t wait for the condition to worsen. If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, seek help immediately.
Go to, or accompany the affected individual to the emergency department of a hospital. Alternatively, contact your primary healthcare provider if they are available. You may also call your country’s suicide prevention hotline.
In Singapore, this would be the Samaritans of Singapore. They may be reached 24/7 at 1767. For other countries, refer to this list of suicide prevention helplines.
What Contributes to Your Mental Health?
Many factors contribute to an individual’s mental health. These factors may be biological, psychological, or social.
These include genes, family history of certain mental health conditions, and chemical imbalances. It also includes brain injuries, factors relating to the brain’s structure and functioning, as well as the central nervous system.
Biological factors may influence individuals in various ways, such as by affecting one’s regulation of emotions, and thought patterns. For instance, an overactive brain structure may cause an individual to view the world in a biased way. The individual may also perceive threats, even if there are actually none. In this way, an overactive brain structure contributes to the development of mental disorders.
Each one of us has different values, belief systems, and mindsets. We learn these throughout our lives from those around us. These values, beliefs, and mindsets influence the way we respond to challenges in life. Past traumatic events and adverse childhood events may also affect how one views the world. Examples of trauma include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
These include having to experience adverse circumstances. Examples include poverty, debt, social exclusion, discrimination, stigma, and violence related to belonging to a minority group. Social isolation and stress may also impact one’s mental health. It is important to note that what is defined as stressful may vary from individual to individual.
Mental Health Services and Options
People sometimes assume that mental health is a matter of willpower. It is not. An individual with a mental health condition is not “weak”. Neither are mental health struggles something that an individual can choose to “snap out of”. The struggle is real. More often than not, individuals with mental health conditions desire very much to overcome their difficulties. However, they may not know how to do so, or even where to begin. This is where treatment comes in. Treatment for mental health conditions may include medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
There are many different types of mental health medications used to relieve the symptoms of mental health conditions. What medication works for each individual may differ. Different medications may have different functions. Keep in mind that it may take time, and trial and error before finding a medication that suits you. For more information about whether medication may be suitable for you, and if so, which medication, ask your primary healthcare provider or a psychiatrist. In many cases, medication is used in conjunction with therapy.
Therapy in this sense refers generally to “talk therapy”. A therapist may be a clinical psychologist or a counsellor. A clinical psychologist may help by providing an assessment and diagnosis, followed by treatment. A counsellor may help with navigating day-to-day struggles in various aspects of life. Examples include difficulties with family, work, and relationships. Therapists are trained to provide a safe space that is neutral, non-judgemental, and objective. Clients often experience greater clarity and increased self-awareness. Individuals can then work towards their next steps with more focus and objectivity.
Along with the benefits of individual therapy, group therapy allows you to connect with and hear from others with similar conditions or experiences. People often benefit greatly from knowing that they are not alone in their struggles. Group members glean insights from each other by exchanging ideas and coping strategies. Unlike individual therapy, there may also be continued mutual support and friendship beyond the end of therapy. This is because group members typically prefer to stay in touch with one another. Group therapy now exists for various mental health conditions. Caregivers of persons with mental health conditions too, may attend their own group therapy, with fellow caregivers.
Mental Health Tips – How to Improve Your Mental Health
Just as people hit the gym regularly to build their physical health, take a proactive approach towards your mental health. Don’t wait for breaking point before reaching out for mental health advice. It will be much harder to do something about it then. This section introduces some simple ways to take care of yourself. These could be done regularly to improve your mental health.
Exercising causes your body to release chemicals called endorphins, which boost your mood and overall mental health and wellbeing. Exercise also helps with weight management, and reduces the risk of chronic physical health conditions such as diabetes. Exercise also reduces the risk of anxiety, depression, and dementia.
However, do make sure that any exercise done is suitable for you in view of your physical health status. Also, slowly increase the intensity of any new exercise that you start. Safety first, always!
Get sufficient sleep
Sleep is closely related to mental health. A mental health condition may affect your quality of sleep. Similarly, the reverse may also be true. Poor sleep quality may influence how you feel the next day, and your mental health. Getting a good night’s rest improves mental and emotional resilience. Improve your “sleep hygiene”, or good sleeping habits.
For example, remove devices such as televisions, laptops, or mobile phones from the bedroom. Make sure that your room is dark, silent, and relaxing. The temperature should also be comfortable for you. Avoid caffeine and alcohol near bedtime. Some people feel that alcohol before bedtime helps them to fall asleep faster. However, studies have shown that alcohol does not improve one’s quality of sleep. On the contrary, alcohol reduces REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep. Exercising may also make it easier for you to fall asleep at an appropriate bedtime.
Moderate alcohol intake and smoking
Alcohol and smoking may help you feel better temporarily. However, they often sabotage you over time as you become increasingly reliant on them. Instead of immediately turning to alcohol or smoking out of habit, try expanding your toolbox of coping strategies and ways to respond to different situations. This is something therapists frequently help with.
Stay connected socially
It can be helpful to remember that the world is larger than what goes on in your mind. Keeping in touch and spending quality time with your loved ones can improve your mood and wellbeing. In tough times, it helps to know that there are people we trust who will be there for us, and vice versa. However, studies have shown that excessive use of social media may be associated with greater risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts. Observe how social media affects you. Moderate your use of social media accordingly.
Have good self-care
Caring for yourself is not just important; it is essential. Be kind to yourself. There are limitless ways to engage in self-care. Different things may work for different people. Some common examples include taking a break, jogging, taking a slow walk, yoga, power naps, reading a novel, solving a puzzle, journaling, playing with a pet, and so on. The possibilities are endless. You may also read up about how to do 5 self-care tips better here.
Take note of what works well for you
When problems occur, people tend to dissect them to see what went wrong, and how. Try using this same approach when things go well. What went well? What made it go well? What were you doing differently? Go beyond noticing “what went well”. Understand the “how” behind it. Doing this will allow you to identify your strengths and apply them to other situations in future.
Increase your knowledge about mental health
There are plenty of mental health resources out there, regardless of which aspect of mental health you’re interested in. You may find out more about the signs and symptoms of different mental health disorders and ways to improve your mental health in general. There is also information on the different evidence-based approaches therapists adopt. There are guides on how to support a loved one. Examples include how to support a loved one with work-related stress, and how to avoid four annoying “listening” habits.
Learn more about mental health so that you can recognise the signs and symptoms if and when they appear. This can be helpful for both yourself and your loved ones. It allows you, as well as those around you, to seek help early, and heal. There is much knowledge to be gained from trusted websites, books, and by speaking to mental health professionals. There are also resources about how to become a mental health counsellor.
Seek professional help
Struggling with a mental health illness is no walk in the park. What’s even worse is if you’re going through it alone. Help is always out there, once you’re ready. There are many others who have sought help and learned to cope better despite life’s challenges. Reach out to your primary healthcare provider, a psychiatrist, or a therapist as a starting point.
If a different service could be more beneficial for you, the professional you’ve approached will provide you with relevant information or make an appropriate referral. You won’t be the first person to have sought help for such difficulties.
Mental Health Advice
Applying mental health advice to your daily life is a good starting point. Recognising when to seek professional help, though, is crucial. When facing a mental health illness, it can be tempting to think that it would be easier not to tell anyone. However, facing mental health difficulties alone can be an uphill and challenging battle, not to mention emotionally draining over time.
Things change when we start to view mental health the same way we approach our physical health. Give it the same level of attention and treatment. Seek help early, before things get worse. People often underestimate the level of work needed in the treatment of mental health difficulties. They try to fix it all by themselves. If you broke a leg, would you fix it on your own?
You can read all our articles on mental health and wellbeing HERE. Hope you find them useful.
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Questions Pertaining to Mental Health
Our mental health is important as it influences and determines how we think, feel, and behave.
Prioritising our mental health positively impacts several aspects of our lives. Having good mental health boosts our productivity, helps us foster healthy relationships, and allows us to stay resilient amidst life’s challenges.
Conversely, having poor mental health lowers our focus and motivation, and impedes our ability to tackle our daily stressors. In the long-term, it can lead to severe emotional and physical health complications. One may engage in self-defeating behaviours (eg physical neglect, excessive self-criticism) or even resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms (eg alcohol, drug use) to manage difficult emotions.
Online mental health self-assessments are a quick and convenient way to find out if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health issue. However, they do not provide you with an actual diagnosis.
You may wish to visit a psychologist or psychiatrist for a mental health diagnosis. They are mental health professionals best placed to assess both your feelings and behaviours and determine the state of your mental health.
As mental health is complex and symptoms of mental health disorders often differ between individuals, it may take several assessments before you receive your complete diagnosis. Even then, your diagnosis is still subject to change, particularly if new symptoms show up over time. At times, you may also be required to undergo a physical check-up to draw out physical ailments contributing to your symptoms, if any.
The process of getting a diagnosis can be arduous. Many a time, you will be asked to share your innermost struggles and confront difficult experiences. Being diagnosed with a mental disorder may also leave you feeling lost and confused or even ashamed. However, always remember that you are not your mental disorder. You are simply an individual with a mental disorder, and a courageous one at that for seeking support. 🌱
A mental health counsellor is a trained professional who works with individuals experiencing a wide range of personal and emotional issues. Beyond providing a listening ear, they draw from several integrative therapies to help you see things from different perspectives and gain deeper self-awareness. A counsellor also gives you mental health tips and guides you along as you set goals and action plans to enhance your overall wellbeing.
Nonetheless, a counsellor does not tell you what to do, or how you should feel. Rather, they offer a safe and non-judgemental space for you to share your emotions and experiences honestly. Over time, your therapeutic journey is meant to help you build internal resources and develop skills to manage the challenges you are faced with.
Anticipating your first therapy session can fill you with nervousness and apprehension. Experiencing such feelings are completely normal, particularly if you are unsure of what to expect. That said, there are still steps you can take to prepare better prepare yourself and make the most out of your session. Some tips include:
- Envision your goals: Have a think about what you hope to get out of therapy. It is natural for your thoughts to be all over the place prior to your first session. You may even wonder if it’s too early to start envisioning goals. Nonetheless, envisaging an outcome actually prepares you for your first conversation with your therapist. With knowledge of your purpose for seeking therapy, they are also better able to devise a therapeutic plan for you.
- Manage your expectations: Contrary to popular belief, going for therapy does not mean all your problems are solved in one sitting. Therapists do not provide advice, solutions, or a “quick fix”. Instead, they journey with you and guide you to find answers for yourself. Moreover, it takes time for you to gain deeper self-awareness and learn how to cope with your emotions. Regarding therapy as a process where you grow in gradual stages, embracing the slip-ups along your therapeutic journey, helps you stay committed and motivated. Showing up for therapy is an act of courage – give yourself credit for taking this leap.
- Keep an open mind: Counselling sessions often reveal insights about ourselves in ways that we may not have expected. Be honest with yourself. Keeping an open mind invites new ideas, possibilities and experiences, which help to foster self-growth. Your therapist may also ask you more questions during your first session to better assess your situation and understand you.
- Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Clarifying your doubts during the session, be it about therapy itself, appointment frequency, or payment, relieves you a great deal of uncertainty after the session. What more, receiving clear answers from your therapist allows you to plan your subsequent sessions more swiftly.
If you are keen to learn more about how to prepare for different types of counselling sessions (eg individual counselling, couples counselling), further information can be found here.
Most individual therapy sessions run for 50 to 60 minutes. Couples or group therapy sessions, however, may run longer (eg 90 mins).
At Talk Your Heart Out (TYHO), all sessions are an hour long.
There are a few reasons for keeping to hour long sessions. Some clients may feel overwhelmed when they are made to discuss deeply personal and emotional issues, often including traumatic experiences, for more than an hour. Limiting sessions to an hour allows them to discuss, feel, and contain their emotions with a clear endpoint in mind, such that resuming daily activities after would be less tedious.
Adhering to such session length also encourages clients to dive more directly into their issues, which in turn helps therapists to absorb what they have shared and offer insights with greater ease. Altogether, it ensures that both clients and therapists stay focused across the hour and reduces the chances of an information overload.
Prior to beginning therapy, individuals often want to know therapy will last or the number of sessions they will need before their problem is resolved. Even so, there is no set length. The amount of time you spend in therapy is highly subjective and depends on several factors:
- Severity of issue: There is a great variety in the issues people seek therapy for: mental health disorders (generalised anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder), relationship conflicts, adjustment difficulties, and trauma, among many others. Individuals who come forth with more complex issues involving longstanding abuse or traumatic experiences, often need a longer time to develop trust in their therapist. Consequently, they may require more sessions before they begin to see improvements.
- Individual goals and needs: While some individuals go for therapy to tide themselves through a difficult period in their lives, others attend therapy periodically and view it as a consistent source of support for their emotional wellbeing. Hence, the length of time you spend in therapy is also dependent on one’s individual needs, goals and preferences.
- Availability of external resources: Having access to external resources (eg social support) is highly beneficial when one is in therapy. Individuals with a strong social support system are less likely to shy away from sharing their concerns with loved ones. This gives them an added emotional outlet outside of sessions and possibly facilitates their therapeutic journey.
In essence, how long therapy lasts remains an open question. It can range from a single session to several months, and possibly even years. Be patient with yourself and your progress. Progress is not linear and looks different on everyone.
On average, an hour long therapy session is priced between $100-$300 for individual counselling, and $180-$400 for couples counselling.
Some counselling centres utilise a sliding scale structure, where fees are often adjusted according to a client’s income. When in doubt, seek clarification from the respective service teams.
At TYHO, our individual counselling sessions are priced at $120 (SGD) and our couples counselling sessions are priced at $140 (SGD). Package pricing is also available for both session types. For more pricing-related information, please click here.
Despite its benefits relating to increased global connectivity, social media is also frequently thought to have a negative impact on one’s mental health. Some negative experiences it is associated with include:
- Unhealthy comparisons: People tend to share only the highlights of their lives on social media. Comparing ourselves to others and slipping into feelings of inferiority becomes almost second nature when scrolling through our feed. Over time, this cycle of social comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy and lowered self-esteem. Interestingly, it is not only upward social comparison (ie comparing ourselves to those perceived to be better off) that evokes negative feelings. Downward social comparison (ie comparing ourselves to those perceived to be worse off) can also provoke anxiety.
- Fear of missing out (FOMO): Fear of missing out is understood as a form of social anxiety that stems from feeling excluded when one sees others partaking in fun, interesting or fulfilling activities. In recent years, FOMO is closely linked to social media use as the ease of updating one’s social media account has proliferated the number of posts people share about their lives and consequently, intensified feelings of social exclusion. In the long run, FOMO leads to a compulsive desire to stay online and has detrimental effects on one’s mental health. Alongside loneliness, depression, and dissatisfaction with life typically ensue.
- Self-absorption: Practising self-love is important and beneficial for our mental health. What happens if this self-love escalates and turns into self-obsession, though? Many users dedicate a significant amount of time daily curating an image of the perfect self they want to project. Over time, engaging in similar self-absorbed activities coupled with external reinforcement in the form of “likes” may result in excessive self-centeredness, which can manifest as one losing interest in the lives of others, and neglecting meaningful social interactions.
- Body negativity: Relying solely on external validation to determine one’s self-worth causes frustration and distress, as easily as when one does not receive the number of likes one hoped for after posting a picture on the gram. In a bid to receiving more likes, one may even feel pressured to alter one’s appearances to fit unrealistic ideals. Body negativity and body image issues are likely to ensue.
- Insomnia: The need to stay connected and informed all the time can keep one up all night. It is easy to lose track of time when using social media, whether we are interacting with our followers, catching a live stream, or simply scrolling through our feed mindlessly. To get on with our daily activities per usual, we then make up for this lost time by sleeping less.
Besides shortened sleeping hours, our sleep quality is also adversely affected by increased screen time. An article by Forbes found that sleep quality is inversely linked to social media use. That is, greater time spent on social media translated to poorer sleep. In the long run, these issues place one at a higher risk of developing physical and mental health problems.
Nonetheless, social media is not all bad. In recent times, it has been frequently employed to raise awareness and share valuable information on mental health. Social media thus holds the potential to normalise mental health issues and reduce the social stigma surrounding seeking external support.
Exercise is known to strengthen our physical health, but how does it relate to our mental health and wellbeing?
- Reduced stress and increased energy levels: Research has shown that when we exercise, our bodies release chemicals known as endorphins, ie mood elevators that reduce our perception of pain and bring general feelings of euphoria. When confronted with life’s challenges, engaging in physical activity helps to temporarily take our mind off things and provides us with some respite. Endorphins also increase our energy levels and help us better focus on everyday tasks.
- Enhanced self-esteem and -efficacy: Exercise is also linked to one’s self-esteem and self-efficacy. Regular exercise brings about visible changes to our body and boosts our body confidence. Achieving our exercise goals and seeing improvements in our physical abilities also allows us to feel productive and motivated. The discipline and sense of purpose found in keeping to an exercise routine are also applicable to other areas of our lives.
- Sharper memory and mental alertness: Certain exercises such as yoga also regulates stress and induces mindfulness. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing reports that yoga not only brings mental health benefits (eg reduced anxiety and depression) but also enhances our brain function. More specifically, the mind-body coordination central to yoga improves memory and mental alertness.
As with any activity, the beginning is always the hardest. Starting or restarting an exercise routine is not always easy. Try selecting an activity you are keen on and schedule a time for it. If you are not interested in the usual jogging or swimming, try something else – cycling, bouldering, or spin. You can even rope your loved ones in for added motivation and fun. Remember, exercising even for just 5 minutes a day is better than not exercising at all.
In the United States, Mental Health Awareness Month is celebrated in May. Events and activities to raise mental health awareness are usually planned during this time of the year. Collectively, they aim to show support for individuals with mental health issues, normalise conversations around mental health and wellbeing, and reduce the stigma surrounding seeking professional help.
Across many parts of the world, as well as in Singapore, World Mental Health Day is also celebrated on 10 October each year.
The mental health awareness month and World Mental Health Day are important initiatives. While mental health should always be a priority, many often feel afraid to admit their vulnerabilities and tend to trivialise their emotions. Some may even find the topic taboo or foreign. Such observances thus establish the universal significance of mental health, provide a platform to mobilise wellbeing efforts, and encourage more workplaces and individuals to commit to self-care.