There are many things that might wipe out the human race: asteroids, global warming, pandemics, obesity, mental illness, visitation by alien races.
Many of these are preventable, but humans aren’t particularly good at preventing things. We tend to wait till it all goes pear-shaped before investing effort to fix a problem. We’re good at responding to crises, but not so great at preventing them.
For those of us in the mental health field, the prevention and treatment of mental illness weighs heavily on our minds. Why? – well depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and the fourth leading contributor to the global burden of disease. Mental illness causes an incredible amount of suffering.
The evidence on whether we can prevent mental illness is mixed, but this is heavily influenced by the fact that it is difficult to do high quality prevention studies, and therefore difficult to show the impacts of prevention interventions.
What we do know, from years of research on the prevention of conditions like cardiovascular disease, is that modifying risk factors for a condition is a viable way to reduce the burden of that disease.
So what are the risk factors for mental illness?
Well if you are very keen, you can read this paper I wrote a while back, but I don’t recommend it. It is a bit boring.
The short answer is there are many risk factors for mental illness, some of them modifiable, some of them not.
Many of the modifiable risk factors for mental illness are similar to those for health conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These include things like poor diet, low levels of physical activity and lack of social support.
The upside of this is that any efforts you make to modify these factors in your own life, will have both physical health and mental health benefits.
Getting more exercise is an excellent example.
The physical health benefits of exercise are well-established, particularly in terms of modifying risk for cardiovascular and diabetes related illnesses.
Now we also know that physical activity can have mental health benefits which include improved mood, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, lower rates of relapse in existing mental health conditions, better quality of life, lower perceived stress levels and potentially even cognitive and memory benefits (particularly in older adults).
If you are thinking you need a bit more exercise in your life, one option is to join a gym. Other options include professional quilt wrestling (also know as vigorous sleeping) and carb loading, where you load carbs into your mouth.
If the gym sounds like your style, well have I got good news for you. Here at Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS), we have 50 free ‘1 week trial’ passes to give away to any student who is interested in trying out the Gym here at the Bedford Park Campus.
If you’d like a pass, simply come to HCDS (Level 3, Student Centre, Bedford Park) and they are on the front desk.
Otherwise email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can organise a time for you to pick one up from me.