Why Mental Health Checkups Are A Good Idea (And Where to Start)

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so doesn’t it make sense to get a regular mental health checkup too?

Such issues affect more Canadians than you might think. One in five of us will experience a mental health problem or illness of some sort, regardless of age, gender, education, income or cultural background. Certain segments of the population are, however, more vulnerable to mental health issues. 63 percent of Canadian millennials self-report as being in a high-risk bracket. And it’s not surprising given the burdens they’re shouldering in student debt, shaky employment and high living costs.

In recommending a checkup, I’m not suggesting you immediately make an appointment with your friendly neighborhood mental health specialist – especially if you have no worrisome symptoms of depression or anxiety.

But it is important to be self-aware and to gauge where your emotions are. If your medical doctor doesn’t ask you about your moods during your physical checkup, broach the subject yourself about possible concerns. For example, lack of energy and trouble concentrating can indicate depression or anxiety. Bringing such issues up can spark a necessary discussion.

Fortunately, a variety of tools are available to guide you. While these are not the last word on your mental health fitness, they can serve as a good starting point for identifying possible issues.

Here are four I’ve seen put to good use.

· The “healthy mind” platter. The idea here is that incorporating seven types of activities into your day will enhance your psychological health. By tracking which you do or don’t include over a one-week period, you’ll find what gaps could be compromising your healthy mind – and can focus on filling them. They include time for sleep, play, physical activities, focusing on tasks, mental relaxation, connecting with others and mindful activities like meditation.

· Online screening tools. Various mental health organizations offer self-assessments with free quizzes that are medically reviewed and designed to help you be more proactive about your mental health. Mental Health America, for example, offers 11 tests for adults on its site for such issues as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, eating disorders, depression and anxiety, and addiction. Information, tools and resources are provided about the findings. The screenings are not diagnostic; the organization recommends sharing results with a professional.

· The “positivity” test. This was developed by psychologist, teacher and researcher Barbara Fredrickson, who found that people should experience at least three positive emotions for every negative emotion. If your ratio is off, your mental health may be a bit off kilter, she believes.

· Avoidance Coping. It’s not uncommon to avoid situations that may provoke stress and anxiety. Try tracking what you avoid and what the upshot is for each instance over a one-week period. It may well be a good strategy for you, but if avoidance creates other problems that make you anxious, it may be time to look at different coping mechanisms.

Different mental health issues have specific signs and symptoms, and identifying them is the first step to getting better. The tools are there for the asking. Make your journey to improved mental health start today.