Research Finds Behavioural Traits To Good Mental Health

Psychologists from Macquarie University’s mental health service, MindSpot say small things make a big difference

We all know that it is often the small things we do as part of our daily routine, like going for a walk or talking to a friend, that support maintaining good mental health.

MindSpot Executive Director and Clinical Psychologist Professor Nick Titov says we all have certain habits and activities that serve as the foundation stones for our mental health.

“When we don’t do them, we become more prone to symptoms of depression & anxiety and if we’re already feeling flat or down, we become vulnerable to feeling worse,” he says.

“Unfortunately, these are also the first things that slip when we are stressed or feeling overwhelmed. There are simple things we can all do and they appear consistent for people no matter their age, sex, marital status or where they lived. It’s easy to forget about them or underestimate them, but they’re incredibly important to our general wellbeing.”

Titov and his team set out to identify which daily behaviours were the most important in keeping us mentally well.

Starting with a list of 500 things that evidence and anecdote have linked to good mental health, they developed the Things You Do Questionnaire, which asked people what they did to stay mentally well and how often they were doing those things on a weekly basis, then compared this to their responses on clinical measures of depression and anxiety.

They used the questionnaire in two studies, each with 3000 participants. Using data from the first study, they reduced the number of questions by a third for the second cohort.

“The results across the two cohorts were the same,” Titov says.

They indicated that there are simple things we can all do each day to promote our own mental health, and they appear consistent for people no matter their age, sex, marital status or where they lived.

“We have now tested these findings with more than 10,000 users at MindSpot and have confirmed the results. Our colleagues in Canada at the Online Therapy Unit have also used the questionnaire in a study of 1000 people and their results were the same."

“More research is required to test this in other countries, but we believe that these five areas could be universal and our colleagues overseas agree.”

The role of meaning, fun and healthy thinking

The results showed there were five key clusters of behaviours that acted as 'psychological anchors', with a clear order of importance.

The simple things: Doing something you find enjoyable and spending time with positive people, are among the  behaviours that contribute to good mental health.

Starting from most important, they are:

Meaningful activity: doing something satisfying, something you find enjoyable, or something you believe in.

Healthy thinking: treating yourself with respect, stopping yourself from thinking unhelpful or unrealistic thoughts, allowing yourself to be less than perfect, and recognising that things go wrong.

Having goals and making plans: setting realistic and achievable goals, doing something to help you achieve them, making a plan and sticking to it.

Healthy routines: going to bed and waking up at regular times, keeping a daily routine, preparing and eating a healthy meal, going for a walk every day or two.

Social connections: spending time with positive people, having a meaningful conversation, chatting about your day with a friend or family member, whether that’s in person, on the phone or online.

Titov says they seem so simple and obvious when you look at them.

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research Behavioural Traits good mental health

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