12 April, 2023

Everyone has mental health. And just like our physical health, the habits we form and lifestyles we live can have a significant impact on it.

There are things we can do in our daily lives to support our mental health and reduce our risk of developing mental health conditions. These are called protective factors, and we’re going to explore some of them in this blog post.

These protective factors for depression and other mental health conditions may not be relevant to every individual. However, they are known to lower the risk of suicide and support mental health and wellbeing for most people.

It’s important to remember that factors such as unemployment, homelessness, racial discrimination, domestic and family violence, and genetic predisposition and are all major risk factors for mental health conditions and suicide.

While this blog post focuses on the protective factors and actions we may have control over, we acknowledge there are many individuals and communities who experience mental ill health due to disadvantage and circumstances out of their control.

Discover some of the factors, influences, and strengths that can support your mental health below.


Physical Health and Healthy Behaviours

Physical health and mental health go hand in hand.

When you’re looking after your body, you’re likely to experience positive benefits mentally and emotionally too.

Some healthy behaviours that can promote good mental health and wellbeing include:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Drinking enough water
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs.

You don’t have to follow a restrictive diet or train like an athlete to take care of your body. You might like to start small by reducing your intake of processed foods and drinks and adding a daily walk to your routine.

Remember to consult with your doctor before changing your diet and/or exercise routine to ensure you’re doing what’s best for your body.


Connection to Community

Humans are innately social beings. Love and belonging are core human needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In fact, they’re considered more important to us than self-esteem, status, freedom, and more.

When we don’t meet these needs, we risk feeling socially isolated, which can lead to serious physical and mental health issues.

If you don’t feel a sense of connection and belonging in your community, you might like to think about some ways you can start to build it. This could include joining or starting a local group or club, whether it be a local sports team, book club, or other group relevant to your interests or hobbies.

Or you could consider volunteering at your neighbourhood library, animal shelter, or aged care facility. This can be a great way to meet likeminded people and create a sense of purpose and connection.

We suggest more ways to build community in your neighbourhood here.


Social and Emotional Support

A strong support network can bring a sense of fulfilment like nothing else.

Many studies have shown the benefits of strong social relationships, including improved physical and mental health, increased ability to cope, and even increased life expectancy.

You don’t need a large social circle to enjoy these benefits. The emotional support from just a few close friends or family members can make all the difference for your mental health and happiness – especially during tough times.

You can make your friendships a priority by scheduling in regular catchups with your loved ones. This might involve hosting a monthly dinner or game night, or booking in a set time to call your friend each week.

We offer tips to make friends as an adult here.


Exposure to Nature

How often do you get outdoors?

In our busy world, it’s easy to spend most of our time inside and in front of a screen (or two!).

Studies have proven the benefits of spending time in nature for our physical and mental health, including improved mood and reduced stress.

Some people find being outside provides a great opportunity to practise mindfulness, as it removes them from life’s distractions and encourages them to focus on the here and now.

A few ways to spend more time in nature might include:

  • Get an outdoor hobby like gardening, cycling, kayaking, swimming, or birdwatching
  • Make use of your local walking trails, parks, and beaches
  • Centre social plans around outdoor activities (e.g. a picnic or hike)
  • Set up a comfy outdoor seating area at home to enjoy your morning coffee.


Help-Seeking Behaviour

The stigma around mental health and seeking help during difficult times has reduced in recent years, but some people still don’t feel comfortable reaching out when they need to.

Bottling things up when you’re having a hard time coping can make things worse.

We encourage anyone struggling to seek help before reaching crisis point. Early intervention can reduce the risk of mental health deteriorating further and help you find solutions sooner.

Professional help such as counselling can be a great option for anyone who needs some extra support.

Our counsellors can help you process your thoughts and feelings in a safe environment free from judgement. Sessions are available in person, over the phone, or via Zoom video call.

You can learn more about our counselling service here, or call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment.

Asking for help from friends, family, your workplace, or a professional isn’t always easy. We offer advice to ask for help when you’re not doing great here.