Here is a mental health training that is as simple as ABC

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    While we take physical training very seriously, there is much less talk about "workouts" that help us stay mentally agile and healthy. But just as with physical health, there are simple and practical ways that can help everyone enjoy good mental health.

    Our research has led us to a method to promote mental health and well-being in communities, which follows a simple model that can be adopted by anyone.

    A previous study showed that people intuitively know what improves their mental health, but do not think about it daily. Unlike their physical health, people rarely consider what they could or should be doing for their mental health.

    Currently, the focus in mental health campaigns is the treatment of mental disorders, the elimination of the stigma of talking about mental health problems, early intervention and the reduction of risk factors that lead to the disease.

    But the burden of mental illness continues to rise: it is estimated that approximately 50% of people in OECD countries will experience mental illness in their lives, so it is necessary to raise awareness in communities and promote simple and practical measures to achieve and maintain good mental health.

    By developing research on what people can do to improve their mental health, we have developed an "ABC" model that can be easily adopted in everyday life. Known as "Acting-Committing," the approach promotes staying active, building stronger relationships with friends, family and community groups, and engaging in hobbies, challenges and meaningful causes. Together, they constitute a simple "do-it-yourself" approach to improving mental health.

    By encouraging people to follow these principles, as well as collaborating with community groups that offer activities and opportunities for social participation, the method, currently implemented in Australia and Denmark, seeks to generate long-term benefits for mental health in populations.

    Act

    Stay alert and committed to staying mental, social, spiritual and physically active.

    Research has accredited a lifestyle with many activities outside of work such as encouraging positive emotions and protecting our brains from decay. An active mind and body, particularly in the company of others, can be naturally rewarding and a healthy alternative to worrying, excessive thinking or substance use.

    Belong to

    Develop a strong sense of belonging by maintaining friendships, joining groups and participating in community activities.

    Research has shown that our relationships with others are fundamental to mental health in terms of providing a sense of identity, acting as a source of support and being an important resource for coping with pain, stress and difficult life events.

    Commit

    Do things that give meaning and purpose in life, such as taking on challenges, supporting a good cause and helping others.

    A sense of meaning and purpose is vital to our well-being and has been shown to help extend our lives and maintain a healthy brain. Committing to a hobby, a challenge, a good cause or helping others can boost feelings of self-esteem and protect against feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

    Participating socially and contributing to the community can preserve brain function, promote thoughts of "making a difference" and reduce feelings that are not useful for well-being, such as egocentricity.

    To demonstrate that these principles promote and protect mental health, we recently completed a series of observational studies on a nationally representative sample of adults in Ireland. The people were interviewed at the beginning of the survey and then interviewed again two years later.

    We categorize the activities of the participants in action, membership and commitment indicators. Participating in various social and recreational activities, such as sports, going to the movies, eating out or traveling for pleasure, were indicators of the Law. Keeping in touch with friends, family and community groups served as an indicator of Belong and the frequency of participating in social and recreational activities as an indicator of Commit.

    The results of these studies show that the highest levels of the three measures improve the quality of life, satisfaction with life and self-rated mental health, protect people against the development of depression, anxiety and decreased brain function and reduce the risk that people depend on alcohol.

    Our research has also shown that the approach is helping patients with mental illness and is now being used as a recovery tool for mental health professionals.

    The bell

    The Act-Belong-Commit campaign aims to take advantage of the resources that are already present in the communities because the behaviors that promote mental health and well-being are daily activities that most people are already doing or are available. Therefore, the objective of the campaign is to raise awareness about this fact and to validate the belief that these behaviors are good for mental health.

    In both Australia and Denmark, the campaign connects academics who can advise on the ABC method with a wide range of community groups, including theaters, women's health groups,  and sports teams.

    These partners receive training and resources, such as self-help guides, while advertising and sponsoring events help spread the message of the campaign. Specific objectives include schools, workplaces, and people recovering from mental illness.

    In Australia, an annual survey asks people if they have heard about the campaign and, if so, how their mental health beliefs and actions have changed. Twice a year, surveys ask partners how the campaign has affected their activities. Similar approaches are being used in Denmark. In this way, the campaign keeps in touch with the communities to constantly improve their methods.

    By encouraging people to follow and prioritize this ABC approach, simple messages from the campaign could resonate with communities around the world and maintain the mental health and well-being of people in the future.

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