Developing a Mental Health Plan
by Rebecca Hicks, RN BScN Plans are important in life. Plans are used in things like construction, budgets, events, and courses. In many cases if there wasn’t a plan, it can seem disorderly, disorganized, and chaotic. In some cases, not having a plan can lead to disaster. Proverbs 21:5 says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity…” We are reminded in Proverbs 16:3 that when we include God in our plans we will succeed. When it comes to our mental health, it is a good idea to have a plan in place to hopefully avoid some of the negative consequences associated with poor mental health. Even in a medical diagnoses such as hypertension (high blood pressure), your medical team will come up with a plan to avoi d the negative consequences of hypertension. They may ask you to take a medication, reduce your salt intake, exercise regularly, and eat a nutritious diet. They will tell you to try these measures over a period of time and then they’ll re-evaluate. A mental health plan can be developed in a similar way. For some of my readers, they have already developed a mental health plan because of an episode they’ve had in the past. For others, you may not have ever experienced a mental health crisis. It’s still a good idea to plan out what we can do if “x, y, and z” happens. In today’s blog I will focus on some practical ways of developing a mental health plan; all you’ll need to remember is the “three A’s”: Awareness, Action, and Accountability. Step 1: Awareness In order to start, we need to know what we are working with. This is where we really need to look inward and take an analysis of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. What is the theme of my thoughts? Are they negative? Obsessive? Stuck in the past? Are they paranoid? Are they fast or slow? Can I turn off my thoughts when I need to? What is the nature of my emotions? Am I feeling sad most days, happy, or apathetic? Do I feel hopeless? Angry? Stressed? What behaviours have I been acting out? Am I isolating myself from others? Working too much? Using substances (alcohol or drugs)? Not sleeping or oversleeping? Have I had a loss of appetite or have I been overeating? Am I feeling unmotivated? Sometimes this can be difficult to pinpoint, and it’s the loved ones around us that will start to notice changes in our mental health before we ourselves realize. For others, we are very in tune with our emotions and can tell very quickly if things are changing. I often will ask my clients to keep a journal of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. This is usually the easiest way to see patterns. Often times we can pinpoint when the problems started. We may notice that our mental health started to change at a specific time of year (ie. winter season), anniversary of a loved one’s death, or during/following a big life change (new job, recent relationship break up, postpartum). You may notice that you are feeling overwhelmed because you have said “yes” to too many things and have overcrowded your schedule. This is valuable information to have because once we know when or how the issue started, we can try to work through the issue and be prepared if or when there is a next time. Sometimes problems arise out of the blue, there is no specific reason for there to be an issue. We can still plan for these types of episodes too. The key is be aware of our thoughts, emotions and behaviours and take notice of how often troubling thoughts and emotion are happening in the course of a day, week, or month. Step 2: Action Once we are aware of our mental health and triggers, we can develop a plan of action. The action plan should be specific, measurable, and attainable or realistic. It needs to have specific details, timelines, and be re-evaluated daily, weekly and monthly. Actions can be things like exercising, implementing better sleep routines, making time for self-care, reducing time spent on social media, consulting with a health care professional to adjust or start medications, calling a therapist, adding more activities to your day, or reducing activities in your daily/weekly schedule. In cases where you are feeling unsafe for yourself or other people it is very important that you reach out to a health care professional immediately or go to the hospital, this should be a part of your action plan too. We all usually have some idea of what works well for us when we are feeling our mental health take a toll on us. Use whatever resources you have available to you and be creative. Here is an example of an action plan: “In November to April (during the winter months), when I usually start to feel depressed and isolated, I will go for a walk or run three times per week. I will join a wellness group during these months to help me stay connected to other people. I will ensure that I am doing things I enjoy for self-care every day. If I start to feel overwhelmed (my thoughts are negative, I feel stressed, I start to feel hopeless) I will reach out to a healthcare professional or therapist. I will re-evaluate how things are going weekly.” Step 3: Accountability The final step in developing a mental health plan is sharing the plan with someone you trust. You need to choose someone who is willing to check in with you regularly to evaluate your mental health and overall wellbeing. This person should be someone you consider close to you, that will not judge you, and who you know you will listen to. During times of wellness they may check in with you infrequently. In times of difficulty, or in periods of time that you historically have a change in your mental health (anniversary, specific time of year etc.), they may check in with you daily or weekly to ensure you are following the action plan. In Proverbs 15:22, the Bible tells us to “seek counsel in our plans”. Adding an accountability person into your mental health plan helps ensure you will implement the plan when it’s needed and helps us to feel supported. Bringing it All Together To recap, remember the “3 A’s” when developing your mental health plan; Awareness, Action, and Accountability. In my experience including God in your plans is the most important thing you can do. He makes everything better. He’s there for us in our mess just like He’s there for us in our times of Joy. He wants to be included in your life. So let Him in! Don’t just rely on your own strength. The Bible says we will be blessed for trusting in the Lord: But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 I hope that you have found this blog to be informative and applicable to your life wherever you are at right now. And if you still have no idea where to start or even the thought of trying to come up with a plan is overwhelming for you, please reach out to a mental health professional as they will be able to help you get started. The information shared today is from my experience as a registered nurse and is not to be taken as medical advice. As with previous blogs I have written for Agora, please consult with your health care professional before making any changes related to your health.