I’VE had the privilege of writing this column for over a year, exploring the vast landscape of mental health and well-being.

Yet, there’s one recurring challenge, the initial reaction many people have to the very phrase “mental health.” Often, it conjures images of clinical settings, diagnoses, and illness.

This association, while not entirely inaccurate, presents an incomplete picture. Mental health encompasses far more than just mental illness. It’s the foundation of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It impacts how we think, feel, and act - shaping our daily lives, relationships, and choices.

So why this persistent association with illness? The roots lie in the historical treatment of mental health issues. For centuries, people with mental illness faced stigma, discrimination, and marginalisation. Confined to asylums and subjected to horrific treatment, mental illness became synonymous with fear and shame. This historical baggage contributes to the current misconceptions. Open conversations about mental well-being remain relatively new. Popular media often portrays mental illness in a dramatic and sensationalised way, further reinforcing negative stereotypes. Just think about how many times the word ‘mental’ is used in a negative way, in our day to day lives.

Here’s the thing, just like physical health, mental health exists on a continuum. At one end lies flourishing well-being, while the other may hold diagnosable mental illnesses. The vast majority of us fall somewhere in between, navigating daily life with a mix of positive emotions, challenges, and stressors.

Think of it like this, everyone gets a cold occasionally. It’s a temporary setback, but doesn’t turn you into a chronically ill person. Similarly, experiencing sadness, anxiety, or stress doesn’t equate to mental illness. These are normal human emotions. Mental health concerns arise when these experiences become persistent, overwhelming, and interfere with your ability to function in daily life.

Here’s where the conversation around mental health becomes empowering, and why I enjoy writing this column. The things we do for our physical health also benefit our mental health, after all our minds and bodies are connected. When we feel great mentally, and feel good about ourselves, we feel more inclined to do more physically. Conversely, when we experience longer term, poor physical health, our mental health can be adversely affected; especially when we are unable to go about our usual daily tasks or have to stay away from work. By acknowledging the importance of mental health, we unlock a powerful message, we all have the capacity to cultivate well-being. Just as we wouldn’t expect someone to run a marathon without training, navigating life’s challenges requires building a toolbox of mental well-being practices.

These practices don’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Here are a few to get you started:

* Gratitude Practice: Regularly taking time to appreciate the good things in life, big or small, can shift your focus towards the positive. Try keeping a gratitude journal or simply taking a few minutes each day to silently acknowledge things you’re grateful for.

* Social Connection: Humans are social creatures, and strong social connections are vital for mental well-being. Make time for loved ones, nurture existing friendships, or consider joining a club or group activity to expand your social circle.

* Learning and Growth: Continuously learning new things keeps your mind sharp and helps you feel a sense of accomplishment. Take a class, read a book, explore a new hobby - anything that stimulates your curiosity and challenges you in a positive way.

* Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation can help manage stress, improve focus, and promote better sleep. There are many free apps and online resources available to help you get started.

Breaking the Stigma: Champions of Change: There’s a growing movement of celebrities, athletes, and everyday people openly discussing their mental health struggles. This helps normalise conversations and dismantle the stigma surrounding mental illness. By sharing our stories, we empower others to seek help and create a more supportive community.

Let’s be champions for mental well-being in our own circles. Talk openly about mental health, challenge misconceptions, and encourage those around you to prioritise their well-being. Together, we can create a future where mental health is valued and supported just as much as physical health.

I’ll be covering some new topics over coming weeks, giving more tips and ideas on how to stay mentally healthy. If there is anything you would like me to cover, do please get in touch.

Please note: If you feel you are in a mental health crisis or emergency and may be in danger of causing harm to yourself or others then please contact your GP, go to A&E, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258

* Martin Furber is a therapist qualified in various modalities and an Instructor Member of Mental Health First Aid England wellbeing@martinfurber.com