What is Mental Health?

The term mental health refers to psychological, emotional and social well-being. Balanced mental health makes it easy to cope with everyday life, to deal with stressful phases and events. It helps, for example, to build supportive relationships or to better assess and use one’s own abilities and resources. In short, mental health is important for living a satisfying and fulfilling life.

Sometimes life can be very stressful and various factors could lead to difficulties and limitations in mental health. In a particularly unfavourable combination of factors, some people may develop a mental illness (We have briefly explained some mental health difficulties and illnesses below). The number of people suffering from mental illness is much higher today than it was a few years ago. At the same time, research is more interested in the topic of mental health. Therefore, it is now very possible to get support if you develop mental health difficulties. This is comparable to going to a doctor when you have a headache or a cold to make life easier again.

Emotions arise in the brain  and are triggered quickly to provide clues to the current situation and needs. Fear is one of the basic human emotions. It is an important emotion for us. This is because it helps to recognise danger and is a sign of the human need of safety. Without fear, life would be much more dangerous. Fortunately, the brain’s warning system is very adaptive. When a situation causes fear, the brain gathers all kinds of information about the current situation so that it can be better avoided in the future. Some people develop an anxiety disorder because of their experience with previous dangerous situations. Anxiety disorders are characterised by an increased fear and a strong avoidance behaviour towards certain situations or objects. When affected people are in the respective situation or come into contact with the respective objects, this can even cause strong physical reactions (e.g. tightness in the chest, palpilations, rapid breathing). Therefore, people suffering from an anxiety disorder can be impaired in their lives and feel burdened.

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders. It is characterised by sad mood or a loss of interest in hobbies or daily activities. In addition, other signs of depression may include reduced self-esteem, a negative outlook on life, difficulty sleeping or changes in appetite. Because depression can affect thoughts, feelings, physical well-being and behaviour, it can lead to difficulties in interpersonal relationships, school or work. People in any age group can develop depression. There are different causes and types of depression. For example, difficult life circumstances or stressful events can increase the likelihood of a depressive illness.

Unusual experiences refer to the person's impressions that do not necessarily have their origin in reality. Hearing voices although there is no one in the room, having one's thoughts become loud, believing that someone is following you, or having thoughts that seem strange to others, such as the idea of having supernatural powers, are among such unusual experiences.

Research has shown that these experiences are common, and do not only happen in the context of a mental health disorder.

It is not uncommon for those having these experiences to feel ashamed or to conceal these unusual experiences, as they fear being seen as "crazy" or "different". In fact, about 10% of young people report unusual experiences. If you have experienced something like this before, you are not alone. It is important to pay attention to the distress that they cause to the person. This is exactly where our research comes in, because we have made it our mission to support young people in dealing with such challenges in the best possible way!

As time has passed and technological progress has been made, the way we interact with each other has changed. Nevertheless, building and maintaining strong, stable relationships is still a fundamental need that influences both our physical and psychological well-being. Several factors are discussed for how our social life positively affects our health.

One of them concerns the symbolic meaning of relationships. For example, a partnership or parent-child relationship can foster a sense of responsibility and purpose, which can lead to placing greater importance on one’s own health. Partners can also influence eating and sleeping behaviour, for example, by supporting or limiting certain habits. At the same time, information is conveyed and norms (e.g., regarding alcohol consumption) are created in social groups, which influence one’s own behaviour positively, but also negatively in certain cases. This is particularly relevant in adolescence, when identity is more strongly shaped, and people try out what preferences and ideals they have. Another major factor concerns emotional support from others, which can reduce personal stress levels. Physiologically, this in turn has positive effects, for instance on the immune system.

Just as social relationships are a considerable source of strength for many people, loneliness and strained, conflictual social interactions can also have a negative impact or be a source of stress themselves. Fortunately, throughout the lifespan, it is possible to learn to cultivate our own social network and communicate better with our peers. Peer support groups, professional help or resources provided by health care and research institutions can be helpful in this process.

Exercise, good nutrition and sufficient sleep are probably the most important factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. But it is not only our body that benefits, but also our mental health.

Over the last few years, many large-scale studies have been able to show time and again that people who are regularly active in sports, for example, suffer less frequently from depression. Nowadays, we sit most of the day, be it at school or at work, and spend a large part of the time in front of a screen.

On top of that, we often eat poorly. We eat too much fat and sugar and drink too little water. Again, research shows that a balanced diet has a positive effect on our mood and mental well-being.

Finally, the topic of sleep. During sleep, a number of important processes take place in our brain that are related to our memory, our performance during the day and our mood, for example. Disturbed sleep means that we cannot be as active during the day as we would like to be. Various measures to improve our own sleep are collectively called sleep hygiene. These include, for example, not consuming caffeine in the evening or making sure to always go to bed at the same time. It also helps to address these areas of your life if you have mental health problems. If you would like to start with a healthier lifestyle, then find out more about one of the points and try it out!

Why Research on Mental Health?

Mental health is important for our well-being as it influences different areas in our lives. Therefore, research on mental health is very important to gather new knowledge on risk factors, but also protective factors. So we can find out how to avoid mental difficulties, how to deal with them or how to improve our mental health.

Especially in the current COVID-19 situation, new knowledge is important to protect our mental health in these difficult times.  To do this, we need your help. Because people are very different and have all kinds of life experiences, we need all lots of different people with all their different experiences to take part in our studies. So by taking part, you are contributing to good research and well-studied knowledge for our lives. Of course, we understand that taking part in studies can sometimes be a nuisance, especially as there are so many other things you can do instead. That is why we do our best to get as much information as possible from our studies and at the same time make participation as pleasant as possible for you.