4 Ingredients for Mental Health

EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
Category: Habits | Life Skills
How many of us take our mental health as seriously, or invest in the time to ensure mental wellness as we do our physical health? Is it possibly that mental health has a stigma to it?

What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation. [Glenn Close]

Many people invest a lot of time in their Physical health and there are many motivators to do so: collective exercise like park runs; earning points with your medical aid for achieving weekly steps or targets – but how many of us take our mental health as seriously, or invest in the time to ensure mental wellness as we do our physical health? Is it possibly that mental health has a stigma to it?

 As Josh Freedman, CEO of Six Seconds, recently pointed out: “for many, the term ‘mental health’ means the same thing as ‘mental illness'”.


Mental health is more than the absence of disorders

The World Health Organisation (WHO) website, states that “Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders,” that what determines mental health is the absence of impacts (such as trauma, poverty, or abuse). That’s like saying, “if your arm isn’t broken, it must be strong.”

This sadly implies that you are either ill or healthy, and provides no insight to describe the middle ground. In other words, you are either well or ill. Yet so many people find themselves experiencing moments or periods of mental unhealth.

 The current state of global mental health is concerning as more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. In the United States, 56.4% of young adults (aged 18-24) experience symptoms of anxiety and depression (per the Kaiser Family Foundation); and a 2020 Cigna study found 61% of US adults to be lonely.

I have no doubt that statistics in Africa are similar or even worse. Add to this, the pandemic, which has further eroded people’s mental health. In the first few months of the pandemic, loneliness increased by 20 to 30 percent, and emotional distress tripled (per researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad writing in Health Affairs).

But declining mental health goes back before the pandemic started. The WHO reports a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders since 2017. This is a longstanding issue.


What can we do to improve mental health?

We also know that there is a relationship between mental health and social media. Multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

Sadly, our youth live a large portion of their lives on and through social media. Rather than focusing on the causes of mental health, I thought it more beneficial to look at what we can do to improve it.

The Journal of the World Psychiatry Association lists 4 key ingredients for mental health:

  1. Basic cognitive and social skills.
  2. The ability to recognize, express and modulate one’s own emotions, as well as empathize with others.
  3. The flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles.
  4. Harmonious relationship between body and mind.

These points are all related to emotional intelligence which is a key resource to support mental health.



 Some of the key competencies that can improve our wellbeing and mental health are…

Finding Purpose (Noble Goal) which is connection to a goal bigger than yourself.

Research has linked having a strong sense of purpose with remarkable mental and physical health benefits. Physical benefits include better sleep, protection against heart disease, prevention of Alzheimer’s, and even a significantly reduced risk of dying of all causes. Mental and emotional benefits include: better relationships, higher quality of life and greater life satisfaction.

“The need for meaning and purpose is No.1. It’s the deepest driver of wellbeing there is,” states Professor Alan Rozanski.

Emotions motivate action, and a strong sense of purpose is an extraordinarily powerful and sustainable motivator. When we connect our everyday actions with our deeply held values and beliefs – and with our life purpose – even mundane actions take on a sense of importance and urgency.

Learn more about pursuing noble goals.

Exercising Optimism

Optimism is about finding new solutions and taking a proactive stance, it isn’t just ‘positive thinking’ as most people refer to it. If we exercise optimism, we can re-activate our growth mindset and shift back into a readiness to keep learning.

Learn more about exercising optimism.

Recognizing and naming emotions

Emotional Literacy is all about learning the language of feelings and the skill we use to understand what we are feeling and why.

 Learn more about ehnancing emotional literacy.


This is about recognizing and appropriately responding to emotions. It is an essential ingredient to healthy relationships as also involves a non-judgmental openness to others.

Learn more about increasing empathy.

Caring for the mind is as important and crucial as caring for the body. In fact, one cannot be healthy without the other. [Sid Garza-Hillman]

An amazing tool that is available from Six Seconds is the 12 Days of Wellbeing eBook, which will give you daily activities to improve optimism, purpose, empathy and more. If you are interested in using emotional intelligence to improve your mental health this will be a great help.

 Download the 12 Days of Wellbeing eBook.

Please also feel free to contact me if you feel you need support.