A Holistic Approach to Mental Health

Mental health affects our emotional, psychological and social well-being. Here’s a quick overview on how taking a holistic approach to your mental health can help you improve, boost and build a better you.
17 Nov 2021
Words by: Sheena Khemaney

Mental health has finally come further into prominence in the last few years; yet understanding its importance is still different from understanding its ramifications. In this primer, we explore the definition of mental health, as well as some misconceptions and statistics. We also consider a holistic approach to managing mental health, and what steps each of us can take to improve our own mental health, as well as that of those around us.

What is Mental Health?

Our mental health determines how we think, feel and act. For instance, it influences how we cope with everyday stress and pressures, how we communicate with others and how we make choices. Nowadays, it’s accepted that issues with mental health can affect absolutely anyone, regardless of age, race, religion or income.

Warning signs of mental health problems include having little or no energy, feeling upset, worried, anxious or isolated for an extended period of time, experiencing extreme mood swings, continuously having negative thoughts, engaging in self-destructive behaviour, being dependent on high levels of alcohol and not being able to perform everyday tasks.

Mental health is extremely important to talk about – so if you find yourself or, if you know of someone who’s struggling with certain issues, these should be addressed promptly, and ideally with a professional.

Intertwining Fingers with Painted Emoticons
Photograph by Yaroslava Bondareva

Common misconceptions about mental health

“Mental health problems are uncommon.”

Mental health issues have become even more prevalent in Hong Kong and around the world since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020. Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, are known to affect people the most.

People with mental health problems are “crazy” or “weak”. Unfortunately, these stereotypical terms are frequently associated with those suffering from any type of mental illness. However, there are various types of mental disorders, ranging from mild to severe, that can be resolved over time. It also takes much persistence and strength to tackle any ongoing mental issue.

“A mental health problem is permanent.”

Depending on the severity of each case, a mental health issue doesn’t necessarily have to last forever. There may be recurrences, episodes or setbacks during the healing process but if it’s treated properly, there’ll be improvement, better symptom management and hopefully, complete healing.

“People with mental health problems cannot work.”

There may be some rare instances of severe cases where individuals cannot carry out their work, but most people with mental health conditions can continue on normally with their current job and tasks.

A person lying face down in a tall grassy field
Photography by Ahndraya Parlato

Some statistics about mental health in Hong Kong

  • 61% of adults currently suffer from poor mental well-being
  • One in seven people will suffer from a common mental disorder in their lifetime
  • 74% of mental health sufferers do not seek any form of professional help
  • 53% of secondary school pupils have displayed symptoms of depression
  • Hong Kong has one of the longest working hours in the world (51.1 hours per week) – with 39% of people working four to eight hours overtime
  • 1 in 4 workers suffer symptoms of depression and anxiety (2.5 times the global average) – around 18% require psychological treatment
  • 73% of workers are unaware of any mental health programmes provided by their employer – and 56% of workers have seen mental health issues handled inappropriately in the workplace.
  • 71% of survey respondents were unwilling to live with mental health sufferers – with 1 in 3 people were willing to end friendships with those diagnosed with mental illness
  • More than half of the survey respondents believe they will be penalised at work for talking about their mental health challenges
  • 55% have experienced mental stigma or know someone who experiences stigma
Close up of lime green residential building in Hong Kong
Photograph by Daniel Müller

What is a holistic approach to improving mental health?

A holistic approach to mental health integrates aspects of mind, body and spirit, acknowledging that each of these aspects plays a part in regulating the body and brain’s well-being. By opting to take a holistic approach to mental health issues, you attack the problem from all different perspectives – for example, by regulating the body’s physical stress response through exercise or relaxation techniques; processing emotional tension through talk therapy; or releasing long-held traumas via spiritual healing.

Keep Active
As you may have learned from Legally Blonde, exercise releases endorphins which lift your spirits and makes you happy. Other benefits of physical activity include better sleep and increased confidence. Step outside for a leisurely stroll, try yoga, or grab a friend and take advantage of Hong Kong’s wide offering of outdoor activities including hiking, camping, and more!

Start A Journal
At the end of each day, take a couple of minutes to reflect on how your day went. Jot down your goals, thoughts and everything you’re grateful for in a cool notebook. Head to The New Moon’s guide to journaling for tips on how to get started.

Get Enough Sleep
Getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night is vital to having good mental health. To ensure you have a kick-ass day, make sure you pack those zzz’s in. If you’re having trouble getting that shut-eye, consider the guide book, Sleep: Relax, Replenish And Rejuvenate With A New Approach, which can help recalibrate your relationship with sleep.

Silhouette of man’s profile against an orange sunset
Photograph by Raphael Brasileiro
Foreshortened worm’s eye view of a woman taking a step in a flowery field on a sunny day
Photograph by Toa Heftiba

Whether it’s for five, 10 or 15 minutes, doing any type of meditation, at least once a day, will help you feel more relaxed, calm and positive. Period.

Try one of our Guided Meditation series by James Francis on YouTube or Spotify.

Use Herbal Remedies
If meditation is daunting, try sitting with a cup of herbal tea, and letting nature’s healing powers do the work. Chamomile will relieve anxiety and help you sleep better whilst lavender and passionflower will soothe the nerves. Peppermint can give you an energy boost and saffron and turmeric can produce feelings of positivity. Browse a selection of herbal teas here.

Seek Counselling
Getting help early on will lessen the risk of developing something more serious. Talking to a professional will also give you the coping mechanisms and motivation to improve. Organisations such as The Samaritans have hotlines for those in need; though they primarily deal with the suicidal, they are available to speak to anyone feeling any form of distress. St John’s Cathedral Counselling Service is there for those seeking more affordable long-term counselling.

Give Back
A selfless act and doing something good for others can bring on a whole load of benefits. It can lower depression as well as increase your self-esteem. Our sister organisation K for Kids Foundation is always looking for volunteers, and a quick Google search will help turn up plenty of other donation or volunteering opportunities.

Try Alternative Healing
While spiritual methodologies continue to confound traditional science, those who have undertaken alternative approaches healing – such as hypnotherapy, TRE, bioresonance or even more creative therapies like expressive arts therapy and ecstatic dance – often find great benefits, particularly as many of these modalities are able to target trauma on many levels at once, fulfilling a holistic approach to mental health and well-bring. These include intertwined physical and emotional issues (reiki, TRE, ecstatic dance, bioresonance), or emotionally and spiritually linked issues (hypnotherapy, shamanic healing, Akashic records).