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You can live with a mental illness but still have great mental health

blue monday 2022 - wild swimming scotland

I have been recording some new podcast episodes for Time for a Mojo Injection season 8 and I was reminded of a great quote that I heard at the Edinburgh Wellbeing Festival.  My lovely guest, Anna McMahon, who is a psychologist and wellness coach said:

You can live with a mental illness but still have great mental health and you can have no mental illness but poor mental health.  

It got me thinking about what good mental health means and how we can measure that.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of mental health describes it as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

I have had two short periods of ill mental health in my life but I very much see those periods as something I experienced, they are not who I am.  I now appreciate my health so much and I have had to put some boundaries in my life.  I would encourage you to think about what good mental health means to you.  When we are clear about this, it helps us to notice if things are slipping.

Good mental health to me means looking for the positives every day.  It means choosing to see the good.  Choosing to show empathy to others instead of judging them.  It means doing more of what we love.  It means not taking life too seriously.

Good mental health means having boundaries and taking space when we need it.  It means being honest but kind.  Sometimes honest and kind with others, sometimes honest and kind with ourselves.

Good mental health means listening to your body, knowing when to rest and when to move.  Sometimes it is doing what we need to do over what we want to do.  And sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack and do what we want to do, like saying no to someone, ordering the cheeseburger, binge watching a show you love or forgetting about all the tasks on the list.

It’s about knowing your triggers.  Have you pushed yourself too far at work, drank too much alcohol or caffeine, not moved enough, moved too much?  When we ignore our triggers then stress can build which means it is harder to see the positives.  But if we have a range of toolkits in place and we know which ones work for us, it will really help.  I have been a bit like a kid in a sweet shop over the years when it comes to wellness and personal development.  I love it.  I now know what works and what is too much for my mind.  Getting to know ourselves is fun.  Looking at the hard times and seeing the lessons is essential.  There is so much material out there in terms of positive psychology and how we can live a fulfilling and happy life, despite what comes our way.  All we need is to make the choice to try.

Good mental health means keeping an open mind, staying curious and being open to learning.  It means going out of your comfort zone and doing things that scare you like jumping into ice cold water, signing up for that course, that run or reaching out to someone.  Good mental health can mean so so many things.  A key part is accepting the things you can’t change, embracing what you can and most importantly learning to love yourself.  When we take time to love ourselves and throw on plenty of self compassion, we find it easier to love others.  So let me ask, what does loving yourself look like?  Do you show yourself the same compassion that you show loved ones?  Why not start by writing some of the thoughts you have in a day and consider if they are mostly positive or negative.  Then work on replacing those thoughts.  I was recently standing in my leggings and hoodie and I could hear my mind saying:

You need to make more effort with what you wear.  Sort it out!

I went on to replace that thought with:

I feel so comfortable in this outfit and I love the colour of my top.  I am thankful I have money to buy clothes.  I am thankful I can choose what I want to wear.

It’s these little things that add up and make the mind a kinder place.  I also use it a lot when doing piles of dishes or tidying clothes away.  I remind myself I am so lucky to be able to cook for my family.  I am lucky I have people I love that I can sit round the table with.  I am lucky we have a washing machine and a tumble dryer.

Perhaps the negative thoughts are about others.  Why not work on replacing those thoughts with positive things, give people the benefit of the doubt. We have no idea what silent battles people are going through.

So instead of –

She is always so grumpy

you could say

her little ways are so funny

Try and have a laugh about it.  Why not do some impersonations of that grumpy wee voice.

Perhaps you are putting too much pressure on yourself to be perfect and it is leaving your exhausted and frazzled.  What can you do to bring more calm and balance into your life?  Can you ask for help?  Does the house have to be spotless 24/7?  Can you cancel some plans and have a hot bath and early night instead?

Know yourself, respect yourself and never be too hard on yourself.  You got this.


Jojo Fraser - scottish presenter and blogger

Jojo Fraser is an award-winning mental health researcher, author, podcaster and keynote speaker, dubbed as ‘the Queen of positivity and a kindness advocate.   She is a Tedx speaker and a regular contributor on BBC radio.  Jojo is known for normalising discussions around our mental, emotional and spiritual health, making it accessible and relatable to all.  She has quickly grown a reputation for having a huge impact even on the most sceptical of people.  She was a finalist for ‘ Scottish Inspirational influencer of the year 2022’.

Connect with her across social @jojofrasermojo

Instagram (the old account was hacked)

Listen to her Tedx talk about the power of removing our masks.

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