Let’s get right down to it. The first question I ask prospective political candidates, entrepreneurs, and national security innovators is both simple and profoundly important:
Do you have a mental health plan?
Mental health is an integral part of our overall well-being, and it affects everything we do. Without good mental health, we can struggle with daily activities, relationships, and our overall quality of life. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of mental health, and as a result, mental health plans have become an essential tool for managing our mental well-being.
I had to learn most of this the hard way during my transition off of active duty in the military and while jumping headfirst into a competitive campaign for the US House of Representatives. I don’t want you to repeat my mistakes.
What is a Mental Health Plan?
A mental health plan is a written document that outlines the steps you will take to manage your mental health. It is a personalized plan that takes into account your individual needs and circumstances. A mental health plan can include various strategies to help you manage stress, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health condition. It is an actionable plan that can help you achieve your mental health goals and improve your overall well-being.
The most successful mental health plans are those that are developed in conjunction with a mental health professional. In a future post, we will discuss low- and no-cost mental health resources available to veterans, candidates, entrepreneurs, and more.
Why is a Mental Health Plan Important?
According to the World Health Organization, at least one in four people worldwide will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives. Mental health problems can manifest in various ways, including anxiety, depression, mood disorders, substance abuse, and even loss of life. Mental health conditions can have a significant impact on a person’s life, affecting their relationships, work, and quality of life. Unfortunately, many people do not seek help for their mental health problems, either due to stigma or lack of access to mental health services.
A mental health plan is essential for several reasons. First, it provides a roadmap for managing your mental health. With a plan in place, you can take proactive steps to manage your mental health and prevent the onset of mental health problems. Second, it can help you identify triggers and warning signs of mental health problems, allowing you to take action before they escalate. Finally, a mental health plan can help you access the appropriate mental health services and support when you need it.
How to Create Your Own Mental Health Plan
Creating a mental health plan can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure where to start. It is also very difficult to create one while you’re in the midst of a health crisis. Here are several concrete steps you can take to make a mental health plan today:
Step 1: Identify Your Mental Health Goals
The first step in creating a mental health plan is to identify your mental health goals. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to manage stress better, improve your mood, or overcome anxiety? Once you have identified your mental health goals, you can start to develop a plan to achieve them.
For those about to begin stressful, vulnerable, or uncertain roles such as startup-founder, candidate, staffer, or even parent, mental health goals can be less about the “ends,” and more about the “means.” When you start feeling overwhelmed, how will you recognize your condition and what steps will you take to put yourself back in a comfortable state of being? How will you frame your performance in a particular role to keep the inevitable volatility of your undertaking in appropriate, healthy perspective?
Step 2: Identify Your Triggers and Warning Signs
The next step is to identify your triggers and warning signs. What situations or events tend to trigger your mental health problems? What warning signs do you experience when your mental health is starting to decline? Identifying your triggers and warning signs can help you take proactive steps to manage your mental health before it becomes a problem.
You might not consider yourself as someone who has “mental health problems.” That is OK! I promise you, though, that in the dark depths of campaign fundraising, startup seed rounds, or defense contract negotiations, you will not feel like your best self. One of my favorite tools to help me identify my triggers and warning signs is to ask the question, “What will I feel like if I feel at this? What will happen to me?” This is a tough exercise, but if I can write down what my potential feelings might be before I begin the journey, I can pair them with effective coping strategies below to help me stay as close as possible to my best self.
Step 3: Develop Coping Strategies
Once you have identified your mental health goals and triggers, the next step is to develop coping strategies. Coping strategies are the tools and techniques you will use to manage your mental health. Coping strategies can include things like exercise, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, talking to a therapist or support group, and more. Choose coping strategies that work best for you and your lifestyle.
Again, it is best to develop these strategies with a mental health professional. It is also perfectly acceptable to have coping strategies that don’t appear to make sense on paper or seem obliquly related to mental health. Some of my tried-and-tested, if rather unorthodox, coping stragies include going to a coffee shop to read a book, taking a hot shower, or even changing my socks. I know, it sounds crazy, but iterate until you find what works for you!
Step 4: Create a Support Network
Creating a support network is essential for managing your mental health. Your support network can include family, friends, mental health professionals, and support groups. Identify people who you can turn to for help and support when you need it.
Without alarming them, let these folks know that things might get pretty rough for you. Let them know what they’re getting themselves into. A support network is an important trust relationship, and it requires real, authentic effort from its members. If someone asks you to be a part of their support network, check in with them regularly and remember to treat them the way you’d like to be treated if the roles were reversed. Above all, know that you don’t have to go through mental health problems alone.
Step 5: Track Your Progress
Tracking your progress is essential for staying motivated and on track with your mental health goals. Keep a journal or use a mental health app to track your progress and note any improvements or setbacks. Tracking your progress can help you identify what coping strategies are working and what changes you may need to make to your mental health plan.
The best way to track your progress during a busy campaign, start-up, or contract pursuit? Attend regular meetings with a mental health professional!
Step 6: Make Adjustments as Needed
Creating a mental health plan is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process that requires regular evaluation and adjustment. As you track your progress, you may find that some coping strategies are not as effective as you thought, or you may encounter new triggers that you need to address. Be open to making adjustments as needed and be willing to seek help if your mental health condition is affecting your daily life.
Step 7: Don’t Forget About Your Physical Health!
In this post, I’ve separated mental health from physical health, but the two go hand-in-hand. Your overall health includes appropriate exercise, rest, and growth for your brain as well as your arms, legs, and lungs. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete, run long distances, or lift heavy weights. But almost every study on the subject has shown that maintaining a consistent physical health routine improves both our mental health and our professional productivity. A physical health plan is just as important as a mental health plan and must be safeguarded throughout your campaign, contracting, or business journey.
It is no accident that the first detailed post on this site is about creating a mental health plan. This concept will underpin everything we talk about in the posts to come, from innovation and starting a business to military service and political campaigns. It is also one of the most overlooked, under-utilized concepts in modern professional life.
Creating a mental health plan is an essential step in managing your mental health. It’s an actionable plan that can help you achieve your mental health goals and improve your overall well-being. By following these concrete steps, you can create a mental health plan today that is tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.
Remember: mental health is just as important as physical health, and taking care of your mental health is a crucial aspect of living a healthy and fulfilling life. If you’re struggling with mental health problems, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional or support group. With the right support and a well-developed mental health plan, you can manage your mental health and live your best life.