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NHS HIGHLAND: We all need to work on improving our mental health

By Dr Tim Allison

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We all need to look after our mental health.
We all need to look after our mental health.

Some of the emails that I receive start with a comment about my health, such as “I hope that you are well”.

These tend to come from people that I don’t know well and may come from complete strangers. I don’t think that they are especially concerned with my health but rather this is being used as a conventional greeting and is something that I try and avoid in messages that I send. Yet it does show how central to our lives consideration of health can be.

That is reflected in cries of “good health” as a celebratory toast whether in English or Gaelic.

We talk about health and beauty or health and safety. We may go to a health club and when I type health into an internet search engine the first suggestion to come up is healthy dinner ideas.

It is great that health is so prominent and that we can focus on this as a positive thing – getting healthier rather than simply concentrating on avoiding getting sick. However, when we talk about health in these circumstances it is nearly always physical health.

Health and beauty is about our physical appearance while health and safety is most often viewed as the avoidance of physical injury. If we go to a health club it is to become physically fitter and look physically better.

Mental health is often seen as something different. Sometimes mental health is used to mean mental ill health and mental illness. However, we all have mental health just as we all have physical health and they are two aspects of our overall health.

We all need to work on improving our mental health just as we all need to work on improving our physical health. Some activities such as physical exercise will do both while others such as spending time with friends will mostly help our mental health.

Remembering that we all have mental health needs can help us to reduce the stigma that can be attached to poor mental health and can help people feel able to access the help that they need.

Mental ill health will affect all of us at some time and knowing this can help us seek help and improve our health.

One of the phrases that is used by local organisations that help with mental health is that it is OK not to be OK. If we need help with our mental health then there are many places that we can get that, whether through the NHS or the voluntary sector.

I hope that we can all be happy to look for that assistance ourselves and help others access it when needed, just like we would want to improve our physical health and help others do the same.

Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

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