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  • Merle Seevers

Mental Health Awareness Month: Why we should treat our mental health like a forest


Mental health is an important topic- yet not talked about enough. Mental illness can affect everyone, regardless of age or other characteristics. A review by the OECD estimated that 20% of the labor force in high income countries are affected by severe or moderate mental health problems (OECD, 2013). As mental illnesses can take many different shapes, they are often not recognizable to outsiders. In addition, many people feel uncomfortable talking about it due to the ongoing stigmatization of mental illness. But it’s time to break this stigma and prioritize mental well-being! That is exactly the aim of the Mental Health Awareness Month May. In his thought-provoking TED Talk, the former President of the American Psychiatric Association Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman explains the role that stigma still has in combating mental illness.


Mental health and sustainability

As a student consultancy in sustainability, we want to support the shift to a sustainable economy and society. The promotion of mental health is a central aspect and prerequisite for sustainable development. After all, sustainability is about acting in a way that conserves resources and allows them to regenerate. In other words, it is about maintaining a healthy balance that enables us to enjoy a good life now and in the future. The concept of sustainability was initially applied in forestry. People started to realize that they should only cut down as much wood as will permanently grow back. If everyone is aware of this, why don't we apply the same principle to mental health? Our mental capacity has limits as well. Just as with natural resources, we cannot expect ourselves to accomplish limitless more. We must stop now and then, take care of ourselves and give our mental resources time to recharge.


Mental health as a form of capital

To better understand what positively affects our psychological state in the workplace, the U.S. management researcher Fred Luthans developed the concept of psychological capital (PsyCap). Today, the PsyCap concept can be used beyond workplaces and identifies areas that have the potential to promote individual mental well-being. Individuals who have high levels of psychological capital feel well and satisfied. PsyCap is based on four components: hope, self-efficacy, resilience, and optimism. People with high levels of hope are determined to achieve their goals and have a positive outlook on the future. Self-efficacy describes the ability to believe that one can master even difficult tasks. A high level of self-efficacy leads to intrinsic motivation. By simply believing in oneself and one's abilities, some tasks are easier to accomplish. If you want to learn more about self-efficacy, here is a short explanation video. Resilience, in this context, describes the ability to adapt to difficult situations and to recover quickly from setbacks. Finally, optimistic individuals follow their goals and believe that they can achieve them with sufficient time and effort.


Regrowing capacities

It should be emphasized that the four mentioned components of PsyCap are by no means innate characteristics, but abilities that can be developed over time. One’s Psychological capital can be increased throughout life. It is certainly not a universal formula for mental health, but an interesting starting point to begin to understand what can influence our mental well-being. Knowing what helps you to feel well is the starting point for a future in which you give your mental health the attention it deserves. So, let's treat our mental health like a forest by being aware of which resources we have, treating them with respect, and giving them time to grow back.

Sources:

OECD. (n.d.). OECD Employment Outlook 2013 [Text]. Retrieved May 12, 2021, from https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/employment/oecd-employment-outlook-2013_empl_outlook-2013-en

Luthans, F., Avolio, B. J., Avey, J. B., & Norman, S. M. (2007). Positive Psychological Capital. Measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 60(3), 541–572. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00083.x


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