What is Mental Health? An Interview with Polymnia Bouza

A few weeks ago, World Mental Health Day took place. Here at BTP we support mental health at home and in the workplace and we asked Polymnia Bouza, a member of the British Psychological Society, to share with us a few words about mental health; its types, treatments, and some good practices to follow. Polymnia has studied Clinical Psychology and is working as a Low-Intensity CBT therapist (PWP) within the NHS.


What is Mental Health?


The World Health Organisation constitution states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This means that mental health is not just the absence of mental disorders, difficulties, or disabilities. It is much more than this and constitutes a fundamental aspect of everyone’s life.


But why is mental health so important? Mental health is this state of mind in which a person becomes aware of their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. It is a state of well-being in which someone can cope with normal everyday stress and difficulties of life, can be productive at their work and personal life, and at the same time be able to contribute to their community.


Of course, mental wellbeing does not mean being happy all the time and it does not mean you won’t experience negative or painful emotions, such as grief, loss, or failure, which are a part of normal life, but having a good mental wellbeing can help us deal more effectively with the ups and downs of life and make the most of your potential.


Mental health is fundamental in determining our ability to think and have feelings, to interact with other people, to earn a living and of course to enjoy life. It is the driving force that motivates us to deal with every other aspect of our lives.


Which Are the Most Common Types of Mental Health Disorders?


Mental health disorders are more common than we usually think and can be caused by both external and internal factors, like our physical health. The environment we are living in, the people we interact with, the society, the meaning we give to our lives and the things we do, our lifestyle as well as heredity are some of the things that might have a significant impact on our mental health. Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental health issues, and according to the World Health Organisation depression is the main cause of disability worldwide, affecting at least 264 million people.




Depression is characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, tiredness, poor concentration, and a sense of loss of meaning. People with depression may also have multiple physical complaints with no apparent physical cause. Depression can be long-lasting or recurrent, substantially impairing people’s ability to function at work or school and to cope with daily life. At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide.




Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, we may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam or having a medical test for a job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. But some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives, their daily routine, their work, and personal life. Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety are feeling restless or worried, having trouble concentrating or sleeping, dizziness or heart palpitations, and avoidance behaviours.


How Can They Be Treated?




Although psychiatric medications don’t cure mental illness, they can often significantly improve symptoms. Psychiatric medications can also help make other treatments, such as psychotherapy, more effective. Some of the most commonly used classes of prescription psychiatric medications include: antidepressants, which are used to treat depression, anxiety and sometimes other conditions, anti-anxiety medications, which are used to treat anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder and antipsychotic medications which are typically used to treat psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications may also be used to treat bipolar disorders or used with antidepressants to treat depression.




Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, involves talking about your condition and related issues with a mental health professional. During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts, and behaviour. With the insights and knowledge you gain, you can learn coping and stress management skills, gain a better understanding of yourself and your position in the world, as well as see things from a different perspective. Psychotherapy can also help us find meaning and purpose in our lives, end the fear of the unknown, use our capacity to make choices and to develop our lives to maximize our existence, or our reason for being. There are many types of psychotherapy, each with its own approach to improving our mental well-being. Psychotherapy often can be successfully completed in a few months, but in some cases, long-term treatment may be needed. It can take place one-on-one, in a group or with family members.




In 2019 the approval of esketamine nasal spray for supervised administration to adults suffering from treatment-resistant depression marked the first major advance in the treatment of depression since the late 1980s. This breakthrough led to more open-minded research regarding the effects of psychedelics, such as psilocybin from magic mushrooms, LSD, and mescaline, which have been proved effective for the treatment of depression and possibly for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Like ketamine, psychedelics seem to have the potential to be a game-changing treatment in mental health. Research has shown so far that they are safe and well tolerated, and they are not associated with the negative side effects of other antidepressants currently in use. These positive results suggest their clear promise in the treatment of mental health disorders and the world is probably within five years of seeing the first psychedelic therapy gain regulatory approval.


Psychedelics have an immediate antidepressant effect, so you get a lift that helps people break out their mental health conditions on a neurobiological experience. But they also seem to open up a period of neuroplasticity where the parts of the brain that tend to resist ideas are subdued, which really opens people up to being more responsive to the effects of psychotherapy.


What Are Some Good Practices to Enhance Mental Health?


Maintaining a good mental health is not always that easy, but the same can be said

about maintaining our physical health at a good level. However, we are doing simple things every day to keep our bodies alive and ready to get us through the day. In the same way we eat, wash, and sleep, we can also adapt to some daily routines, in order not only to maintain but also to improve our mental health.  As we said earlier, mental health is not just the absence of a disorder, it is a fundamental state of our existence and there is always space to expand our capacity to think, feel and live. Three simple things that we can include in our day in order to look after our wellbeing are:


  1. Mindfulness:


Mindfulness is a significant element of maintaining and improving mental health. It is more than just a secular self-help technique that you might see in a magazine or an app. Mindfulness blends modern psychology and the ancient wisdom of meditation to help us live more fully and with a greater sense of perspective. It helps us be more aware of and less reactive and judgmental towards our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. Key elements of this include seeing thoughts as mental events rather than facts, learning how to work skillfully with automatic patterns of reacting to stress, developing capacity to notice and enjoy pleasant events in life, and cultivating a more unconditional kindness towards yourself and others. Regular meditation practice is considered helpful as a way of cultivating mindfulness.


  1. Reframe unhelpful thoughts:


The way we think, feel, and behave are linked. Sometimes we develop patterns of thoughts or behaviours that are unhelpful so recognising them, and taking steps to think about things differently, can improve your mental health and wellbeing. A good practice to achieve that is to keep a reflective journal, in which we can write down our thoughts and emotions, examine how suitable and helpful they were for the situation, us and others, reflect upon them and reframe any thoughts or feelings that no longer serve us.


  1. Be physically active:


Being active is not only great for our physical health and fitness. Evidence also shows that it has a huge potential to enhance our well-being. Even a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy, positive mood, and self-esteem by helping us to set goals or challenges and achieve them and by causing chemical changes in our brain which can help to positively change our mood.


How Would You Define a Healthy Work-Life Balance?


A healthy work-life balance will mean different things to us all. It’s not so much about splitting your time 50/50 between work and leisure but making sure you feel fulfilled and content in both areas of your life. A healthy balance might look like:


-meeting your deadlines at work while still having time for friends and hobbies

-having enough time to sleep properly and eat well

-not worrying about work when you’re at home.


This can be challenging if, for example, we also have caring responsibilities, a demanding boss or health difficulties, however, there are some tips to follow in order to achieve a better work-life balance.


Try to work smart, not long:


Working late will not give you enough time to rest and do things you enjoy in order to recharge your batteries and look after your mental and physical wellbeing.

There might be times when you need to work overtime to meet deadlines but try to make this the exception, not the norm. Long hours mean you may be working harder, but not necessarily better, and they have negative effects on your concentration, productivity, and health.


Create clear boundaries between work and home:


Try not to let work interfere with your personal time. When you leave work, you should also leave all the thoughts and stress behind and spend the rest of your day focusing on you. If you need to bring work home, designate a separate area for work and stick to it, you’ll find it much easier to then close the door on work.


Start a To-Do list:


At the end of each day, go over your list and write up one for the next day, when your thoughts are down on paper, you’ll find it easier to not think about work.


Use the time on your commute home to wind down from work:


Read a book or listen to your music to set aside some time for yourself. Maybe try cycling part of your journey or getting off a stop early to take a shortcut through a park or quiet streets. These little actions can really help you to switch off.