To tackle mental health, shift focus to optimal living

There is ample evidence showing significant amounts of stress placed on adults in Singapore. Students in higher education and companies report high instances of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, stress and lack of sleep.

Higher educational institutes and companies have done the right thing by providing more options for people to get the necessary help, such as employing counsellors and therapists.

However, shifting the focus to optimal living from treatment when dealing with such issues would be more beneficial. Our mental, physical and social health are interconnected, and a change in one would have a direct impact on the other components.

Mental health goes beyond just cognition and negative thoughts; it affects interactions with others, motivation to exercise or eat healthily, and the decisions made in personal and professional lives.

Having access to opportunities to socialise, eat healthily, exercise and sleep more may seem like common sense to "treat" sadness, depression, anxiety and low mood, but culturally, individuals and organisations are incentivised to avoid treatment rather than promote health. This approach has slowly impacted health, and the effects are seen today.

Changing from a treatment-based approach to one of prevention requires aiming to live optimally. Actively living a healthy life treats mental health issues as well as prevents them, and because the various dimensions of our health are linked, it promotes our physical and social health as well.

The benefits include increased productivity, self-efficacy, performance and cohesion.

This comes from a change in focus to optimal living as opposed to just not being ill.

Alan Cromlish

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'To tackle mental health, shift focus to optimal living'. Print Edition | Subscribe