As we come to the end of May, it is important to remember one more time that this month has been Mental Health Awareness Month (http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may/). It is a time to recognize the struggles that many face simply getting on with their day-to-day lives, and reflect on our own mental health challenges. An abundance of research now exists about the role of our behaviors in diagnosing and correlating mental illness. These behaviors can sometimes be linked to the environment. Therefore, mindfully changing the environment can help change a behavior.
When diagnosing a mental illness (https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness), doctors tend to look at how a person is feeling, a person’s cognitive functioning, and their behaviors. The affect of an individual can indicate a person’s emotions on a deep level. However, if it is not self-reported, it is communicated in terms of behaviors: “My friend/family member is acting cold and withdrawn.” Likewise, a person’s cognitive functioning requires a description of doing: “He couldn’t even remember his own phone number.” These behaviors coalesce into a rounded form of information that can lead to a formal psychiatric diagnosis.
Behaviors, when performed over and over, become habits. Habits such as sleeping too much are linked to depression (http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/physical-side-effects-oversleeping#1/). Habits such as sleeping too less are linked to psychosis (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/serendipupdate/effects-sleep-deprivation-brain-and-behavior/). And of course, habits such as substance abuse become their own diagnosis (https://www.centeronaddiction.org/).
These habits are all made possible by the schedule a person keeps because of their position in life. Someone who has to work a full-time job and then go to school every night might have a tougher time getting the sleep they need. Someone who works from home may be getting too much sleep. These habits are made possible partially by a person’s employment. Of course, we all have the position in life to change our own behavior. Author Charles Duhigg writes about how to change a behavior given the science of habit loops in his book “How Habits Work” (http://charlesduhigg.com/how-habits-work/).
So if you are feeling depressed, consider scheduling some time for a little exercise. If you are having weird thoughts about your neighbor, try getting a good night’s sleep. And if you’re having trouble with an addiction, be it coffee or heroin, try replacing the behavior with something more healthy but still reward-rich. And of course, have a good life the entire way!