We tend to think of mental health as an all-or-nothing kind of thing. You either have it or you don’t. Lately I’ve been thinking that there are so many contributing factors to mental health that it is surprising that most of us have most of them most of the time. I also wonder if any of us ever have all of the possible components.
Making Your Own Recipe
What if we could figure out which ingredients we need in order to be mentally healthy, and then put them together like the ingredients in a recipe? We could each choose to make a different concoction, or we could each make the same recipe in our own unique way. We might choose to omit some things from the basic recipe but include some other, favourite, elements. For example, I might want to include more social interactions and you might want to include more time alone.
Choosing to Read
Today, while I was volunteering a centre for homeless people, I met a man who inspired me. My role there is to help centre participants to access computers. They might search for jobs, check their email, connect with friends on Facebook, or anything they feel like. This one particular man took the opportunity to download books onto his Kindle. He told me that since he became sober he likes to just read, read, read. Because he is homeless and therefore transient, hardcopy books are too heavy and bulky to pack around, so he bought a used Kindle. Now he uses reading to stay sober and to improve his mind, and he has hundreds of books.
Including Physical Health
Something else I came across today was a message from my niece who lives in Leith, in Scotland. She is a yoga instructor who works with a community organization and they are excited about building a place where people can improve their mental health through fitness classes, guided meditation, life coaching and counselling. I realized then why she is so empowered by what she does and by the people she works with. She is helping people to improve their well-being not only physically, but also emotionally.
A Dash of This and a Pinch of That
Both the Kindle and the community centre provide of some of the ingredients for mental health. There are of course many, many others; social connections, family ties, work, money, respect, light, warmth, and on and on. You can probably name lots of ingredients that you feel are essential to your mental health. Some of them we all share, but some of them are unique to you.
Cooking with Friends
Yes, of course, there are mental health problems that require medical and psychological interventions, and those are necessary ingredients, too. I don’t pretend to know anything about psychology or mental illness beyond my own experiences with depression. Today, though, I felt a new understanding about how we can all contribute in small ways to another person’s mental health. We can’t “fix” anyone’s mental health problems, but if they are trying to pull together the ingredients they need to complete their own recipe, we can maybe contribute a teaspoon of herbs.
They still have to do all the preparation and cooking, but if the meal needs access to a computer, I can help with that. If the recipe needs yoga, my niece will be happy to show them how. If they need something to occupy their mind in order to stay sober, maybe we can find a used Kindle or Kobo or Nook. It may be the one essential ingredient that completes the recipe.