Opinion

Society

A Prescription for People “Feeling Depressed for No Particular Reason” Today

Koji Takenaka
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

“Men-heru” and “Men-hera”: Growing Numbers of People “Feeling Depressed for No Particular Reason”

The terms “men-heru” and “men-hera” are among those online buzzwords which we often see today. “Men-heru” and “men-hera” refer to “poor mental health condition” and “someone with a mental health problem” respectively. As suggested by the fact that the word “men-hera” has come into popular use, it has become common for people today to feel depressed for no particular reason, which can happen to virtually anyone in everyday life. According to the Second General Research on Japanese Working Lives by the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (2016), 25.7% of the respondents answered that they had suffered some mental issues—for example depression or apathy—during the past 3 years. Of these people, 76.5% responded that they were healthy enough to lead life without outpatient care. Although these respondents cannot be regarded as having mental illnesses, they may still be at risk of developing them. Additionally, it is quite likely that they will have mental health problems later when left unattended. If so, learning techniques for reducing everyday subjective symptoms, such as “feeling depressed for no particular reason,” “not feeling like doing anything” or “feeling physically lethargic,” at an early point in time can be expected to help prevent mental health problems from occurring later.

Besides reducing negative symptoms, maintaining good mental health, in other words promoting positive mental health, is just as important. Mental health promotion introduced in this article recommends that daily efforts be made to promote positive mental health, in addition to alleviating and eliminating negative factors. In a nutshell, it is about paying greater attention to positive experiences and events so as not to let negative events resonate in the mind and contribute to depression, even if it is only natural that negative things keep happening in our everyday lives.

Mental Health Promotion in Other Countries

In Western countries, schools and workplaces have traditionally been introducing many different intervention programs to promote positive mental health. Most campaigns carried out at the local level are aimed at such activities as increasing public awareness about specific mental disorders, promoting education on stress mitigation and stress management strategies, encouraging people to ask for help without hesitation, facilitating early detection and treatment of mental health problems and dismantling the stigma associated with mental health issues. Recent years have also seen an increase in similar initiatives in Japan, for example, anti-stigma measures, such as making it easier for people to consult mental health professionals, and educating people supporting patients who suffer from depression, as well as population approaches targeted at drawing more attention to depression signals, like the catchphrase “Do you sleep well?”

Activities for promoting mental health are further accelerating in Western countries, where increasing numbers of campaigns are carried out to increase public awareness about mental health and encourage behaviors that benefit mental health. For example, NHS Health Scotland has established the views of the public and professionals on what are sometimes referred to as “positive steps for mental health,” including keeping physically active, having a good diet, drinking in moderation, learning new skills, creativity, spirituality, valuing yourself and others, talking about your feelings, keeping in touch with family and friends, caring for others, making a contribution, asking for help, finding an appropriate work-life balance and contact with nature, and recommends these “positive steps for mental health” as the specific behaviors that are required for maintaining positive mental health.

In this way, activities for promoting mental health are proactively implemented in developed countries to promote positive mental health, in addition to professional mental health services, which are provided to prevent and treat psychiatric disorders and mental health problems. These attempts can be said to be very intriguing in the sense that they have one thing in common – they all aim to prevent mental health problems through enhancing positive mental health, not focusing on mitigating depression, anxiety, etc.

Act-Belong-Challenge Campaign for Promoting Mental Health

We launched our Act-Belong-Challenge Campaign for promoting mental health in response to the need to prevent mental health problems among children in the affected areas in the aftermath of the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Act-Belong-Challenge Campaign makes recommendations in three categories: Act (i.e., keep mentally, physically and socially active), Belong (i.e., belong to a group, join a social activity) and Challenge (i.e., take on a volunteer role, start a new activity). Similar to promoting physical health (for example awareness building campaigns promoting non-smoking, exercise or a healthy diet), this campaign promotes behaviors that help people maintain good mental health.

Taking advantage of the period without class during the autumn festivals at Waseda last November, I visited Professor Donovan at the University of Western Australia, who had kindly provided us with information to support the development of our Act-Belong-Challenge Campaign. In Western Australia, a campaign for promoting mental health named Act-Belong-Commit Mentally Healthy WA is being carried out on a grand scale. This visit has given me the opportunity to see the awareness-building campaign with my own eyes and realize that this mental health promotion is more like marketing than psychology or psychiatry, as it focuses on how can bring people to see the importance of mental health and how it can lead people to proactively develop behaviors contributing to positive mental health and endeavors to reach different walks of life by using a wide variety of tools and communications media.

Mental Health Expo held at a school

There are some supporting ideas behind the Act-Belong-Challenge Campaign that we have developed for promoting mental health. One of them is positive psychology, which focuses on people’s strengths, how to make use of them and how to be happy by taking advantage of positive factors that contribute to a better life. The second one is meaningful activity, which has been strongly encouraged in Western countries in recent years. This is about practicing activities that benefit you, are recognized as important for you, allow you to demonstrate your creativity, give you a sense of achievement, make you feel you are capable, support others, give you joy, fun, a sense of control and satisfaction, or contain a healthy dose of challenges. By getting something done, particularly something that holds meaning and value for you, even if it is a minor achievement, you can be rewarded with feeling fulfilled. The third one is behavioral activation, a therapy used for treating depression. When you feel that you cannot do anything right for an extended period of time, lack experiencing success, or are not acknowledged by others, you naturally fall into a state of depression. Feeling depressed this way will deprive you of motivation and keep you from doing anything, which in turn cause you to sink deeper into depression. This is where therapy comes in; it aims to ease you out of the depression by getting you to do something and helping you to feel rewarded to get motivated again, for example getting you to go outside to get some fresh air to make you feel better or getting you to ring a friend to make you feel that you are having a good time.

In this way, always being aware of mental health somewhere in your mind and making conscious efforts to develop behaviors that promote mental health are vital elements of maintaining good mental health.

In Closing: A Symposium and Information about the Campaign

1) A symposium to be hosted by the Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences, Waseda University
“New Insights into How to Protect Mental Health: Preventative Mental Health Measures—From Primary Prevention to Boosting Positive Mental Health”
Date and Time: Sunday, July 9, 2017, 1:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Location: Classroom B101, Building No.8, Waseda Campus, Waseda University

2) More information on the Act-Belong-Challenge Campaign for promoting mental health, described above
https://www.waseda.jp/inst/weekly/feature/2016/11/04/18673/
https://www.waseda.jp/inst/weekly/feature/2016/10/31/18298/

Koji Takenaka
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Takenaka graduated from the School of Education, Waseda University, in 1975.
He completed his doctoral program at a graduate school of Boston University in 1990.
He earned a Doctor of Education from Boston University, and a Doctor of Psychology from Kyushu University.
He took up his current position in April 1997 after serving as an assistant professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, at Okayama University, and at the School of Human Sciences, Waseda University.
His areas of specialty are health psychology and applied health science.
He also serves as President of the Japanese Association of Health Psychology and a Board Member of the Japan Society of Stress Management.

Major Publications:
- Construction of Active Lifestyle: A Behavioral Change Study of Physical Activity and Exercise (Waseda University academic series), (Waseda University Press)
- Psychology of exercise and health (Asakura Publishing)
- Stress Management: Past and Future (Yumani Shobo)
- Stress Management Education for Daily Life and Disasters: Guidebook for Teachers and Counselors (Sun Life Kikaku)
- Active Child 60 min.: Physical Activity Guidelines for Children (Sun Life Kikaku)