In the fast-paced whirlwind of modern life, our mental well-being often takes a backseat to the demands of the daily grind. As we step into the promising expanse of 2024, there emerges a compelling opportunity to prioritize our mental health in a way that resonates long beyond the fleeting resolutions of a new year. Imagine a transformative journey where, instead of waiting for the storm, we equip ourselves with the tools to navigate the inevitable challenges ahead. We want to explore the profound impact of choosing to undergo a Mental Health MOT in 2024 – a decision that has the potential to shape not just the coming year, but the essence of our entire lives. We spoke to the wonderful team at The Soke to delve into the myriad reasons why opting for a Mental Health MOT might just be the most profound and empowering decision you make this year.

Why is it important to check in with our mental health regularly?

Most of us, in our day-to-day lives, rely more on our mental faculties than we do our physical prowess. It seems incongruent, therefore, that we would dedicate so much time, energy and financial resources to our physical health and yet largely ignore the part of us that ultimately will dictate who we are, how we behave and what we’ll do with our lives. It seems rational, to say the least, to pursue emotional & psychological wellbeing with the same consciousness and determination that we dedicate to physical fitness.

What are the signs that someone might benefit from a mental health checkup or therapy?

Many of us have the emotional acuity to recognise and acknowledge when things don’t feel right for a sustained period. Sometimes it manifests as a short fuse, sometimes it’s an internal sadness or an absence of positivity or hope about the future. Thinking that you have nothing to look forward to – whether it’s the company of friends, an event or an achievement – can be another sign that you need to examine these feelings before they start to evolve into something that becomes rooted in your way of being.

Working with a professional, whether through a one-off or an ongoing relationship, can help you get to the heart of the matter with the guidance of someone who you can trust to hold a mirror to you with kindness, objectivity and a commitment to “being on your side”.

In what ways can a mental health MOT be beneficial?

A mental health MOT can highlight both emerging and deep-seated issues which would benefit from exploration and, ultimately, resolution. However, it’s not solely focused on highlighting any problem areas, it’s also a way to ‘check-in’ and evaluate where you are in your life, where you want to be and how to align your actions with what you hope to leave as your legacy. 

What are the potential benefits of speaking to a therapist or mental health professional?

Many people live their lives, and observe the lives of others, through stories.  Speaking to a therapist, engaging in talking therapy can help a person to look at the stories buried within their past, bring them to the foreground, discover the more positive plot points within those personal stories and then proactively rewrite a more positive narrative.  

How does the stigma around mental health impact the willingness of individuals to seek help?

In some respects, the pendulum has now started to swing in the other direction, where stigma has been replaced with a desire to be labelled with some sort of mental health diagnosis, so I don’t think that fear of stigmatisation is as much of an issue as it might have been, even five years ago. 

Nonetheless, for people seeking mental health support, particularly in older generations, they need to be shown that taking the risk of appearing vulnerable can have obvious benefits.  We need to talk more openly with each other on an emotional level.  This strategy that we have of keeping a lid on things can end up backfiring.  Very often, bigger issues come to the fore.  

What role does self-care play in maintaining good mental health?

To say that self-care is the key to mental wellbeing would be to do a huge injustice to those who suffer from debilitating depression, and who can do little to prevent the dark clouds from intermittently gathering. But with almost everyone else, making sure that you make space for yourself is an essential component of psychological wellness. This means finding regular moments that are purely yours to do with as you please – whether you’re getting lost in music or staring out of the window. Find your happy place and visit it as frequently as you can.

Are there specific self-care practices that are particularly effective for mental well-being?

Negative thinking puts barriers in the way, we start to shut down and stop living life fully.  Positive thinking, however, is about seeing possibilities and understanding that we can be resilient when life knocks us.  It makes things seem more possible, permits us to take action and helps us to envisage things to look forward to. 

How can someone establish a healthy routine for maintaining mental health?

When it comes to poor sleep, if you start to worry about it you can end up triggering your body’s stress responses.  When you’re in a state of stress, your body thinks it’s at risk and forces you to stay awake to survive.  However, if you can find ways to calm your mind, your stress levels will drop within minutes.  To do this, use mindfulness techniques by focusing on the present moment, paying attention to bodily sensations, getting comfortable where you are and breathing more consciously and deeply. 

When it comes to nutrition, find ways to incorporate a colourful variety of plant foods, whole grains and lean protein into your meals.  Avoid heavy or high-sugar meals late in the day.  Limit caffeine and alcohol as they’re stimulants and can contribute to feelings of anxiety.

The hardest part of self-care, however, is remembering to practice it.  Consider ways to make time for self-care a part of your daily routine, so that it feels familiar and easy.  Check in with yourself in the morning, start the day with an uplifting phrase and get outside into daylight for a few minutes.  During the day, remember to take movement breaks away from your desk and connect with people who make you feel good. 

Are there any misconceptions about mental health checkups or therapy that you commonly encounter?

We’ve reached a point where there are a significant number of high-profile role models speaking openly about their mental health and how they’ve benefited from professional help.  This is really good for opening up public conversation and encouraging others to seek support, but it doesn’t answer the questions that most people have: “Who can I speak to?” and “Where do I start?”.  What people need to do is realise that doing something to address mental health needs is better than doing nothing.  It may feel overwhelming, so start with small steps.  Test out conversations about your mental wellbeing by engaging with someone who’s a good listener, a loved one whom you trust or someone with professional knowledge of supporting others.  Even if those conversations seem simple, you’ll have begun that journey.

That said, we still need to shift the public message even further, from “It’s okay to talk” to “It’s healthy to talk”.

Book a Mental Health MOT at The Soke here.
words by various members of The Soke team.