OK, I will admit that this is a slightly misleading title. Anyone who’s lived with a mental health condition for any length of time knows that there is no one single thing that is the answer to our struggles. If there was, everyone would have been doing it for years and no one would have a lasting difficulty around their mental health. What we have is a number of things that help a bit sometimes. Managing mental health is largely about slowly gathering a toolkit of things that help a bit sometimes and learning which ones help when.
However, there is one thing that I would say, above all others, has helped with my mental health. I’ve mostly done it on my own, with support from others for sure, but no particular expertise is necessary. It’s something that virtually anyone can do. You can begin it right now.
This one essential thing is finding meaning and purpose in life. Have you ever asked yourself what is the point of all this? I believe that is a question that we only ever ask when our mental health is at a low ebb. When things are going well we are either too busy to ask the question or we’re contentedly living out our purpose and we don’t need to think about it. When things start to go adrift, it’s often because this aspect of our wellbeing is missing or has been shaken up in some way.
So how do we create meaning and purpose in our lives when everything seems pointless and we feel hopeless? Sometimes we have to start with something tiny. Try looking around you for something beautiful. Or maybe think of something kind that you can do for someone, a smile or a kind word. Two of the things that really help us with our mental health are feeling that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and helping other people. Both of these things wake up the happy chemicals in our brains and make us feel better.
It almost doesn’t matter what you choose to do, as long as it matters to you. Here are some of the things I’ve tried:
- Volunteering. Helping other people makes me feel better about myself. It gives me a sense of purpose.
- Learning something new, a college course or a new hobby, perhaps. How many people took up new hobbies in the first lockdown? It’s because it really helps us cope if we can focus on something enjoyable and a bit challenging. It helps us find meaning.
- Setting a goal. A goal that takes some time to accomplish is best. Working towards it bit by bit every day or every week is purposeful and helps us to look to the future.
- My faith gives me a meaningful context for my way of life. What do you believe, and how does it make you feel? If it makes you feel bad, you could find out about some different beliefs.
- Or perhaps faith is not your thing but you really care about the climate emergency, for example. A faith or a cause helps us to see our place in something bigger than ourselves and gives us a sense of solidarity. Try taking a step to get involved with something that’s important to you.
You know yourself best. Only you can really determine what it is, or could be, that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. Whatever it is, find it or do it more. It could change, or even save, your life.