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The nudging route to mental health

Introduction

It is estimated that 1 out of 5 US citizens experience a mental illness each year and, while taking care of mental health is essential, there are still some stigmas around it. Almost everyone gives more importance to physical than to mental health, even though the latter one can be responsible for physical pain as well and altering behaviour. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation and it is now even more important to create awareness and nudge people towards a good mental health.


No health without good mental health

Looking after our physical health is important and most of the population shows some concerns about it, nonetheless. When it comes to mental health, it is quite common to forget it or pretend that it is fine and there is no need for medical help. The truth is that it is utterly challenging to be overall healthy without having a strong mental and emotional condition, it has effects on how we feel and behave, and it also influences our decision-making process.

Additionally, some untreated mental conditions, put people at a higher stake of developing physical conditions. For example, depression and schizophrenia are risk elements for developing type 2 diabetes, as they affect the body’s resistance to insulin. Anxiety and other conditions are also responsible for a higher blood pressure and level of stress hormones, which can then constraint the cardiovascular function, increasing the risk of developing a heart disease.


When a mental condition causes pain

Other than contributing or worsening physical conditions, mental health issues can also cause unexplained aches and pains, such as stomach pain, headaches, fatigue and so on. According to psychologists, mental illness is in fact responsible for a range of physical symptoms, these are called psychosomatic and, unfortunately, are often not taken seriously.

Effects of the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic brought us a new and different way of living, which presents us with many challenges and, some of them may affect our mental health. These can affect everyone, not only people who have been infected with Covid-19. Social isolation, uncertainty, worrying about getting infected or having a relative with an illness are the main contributors of higher levels of stress and anxiety, that can trigger more serious mental conditions.


How could BE help?

By combining economics and psychology, BE could be helpful to prevent or to help some mental problems, as it recognizes that people are not always rational and exhibit biases. These biases might sometimes be efficient, but can also negatively influence choices, as for example giving people a tendency to remain in their current situation, even if this situation is not the best and if changing could lead to better outcomes. This can in fact be seen in the mental health situation, even if someone is needing help, the person might stick with the present situation and refuse to ask for help, when asking could be helpful to improve this person’s condition.

Research shows that social ties nurture mental and emotional well-being and concludes that higher levels of isolation may contribute for individuals to develop major depressive disorders. An uncomplicated intervention would be to promote social relationships in companies, especially the ones where workers are more isolated, as for example having an open office, which encourages and makes social engagement between employees easier.

The coping mechanism

Inappropriate coping mechanisms also increase the chance of developing a mental disorder. When someone has a healthy coping mechanism, he can identify a stressful situation, think about solutions, and do something to minimize the stress. On the other hand, an inappropriate coping mechanism tends to avoid identifying the situation of stress and then fails to seek solutions or support, which has then consequences of avoiding social interaction. This unhealthy coping mechanism is more often found on young adults. A nudge to fight this unhealthy mechanism could be to expose the individuals suffering from it to posters showing that a significant quantity of their colleagues accepts stress management training. Furthermore, it would also be helpful to show them the importance of options and that they have the power to choose, getting then rid of some stigma around asking for psychological help.


Wrapping up

With mental health having such a great importance, and assuming even more magnitude with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is essential to promote it and create awareness. Despite not being used a lot in this context yet, BE has potential to give good insights on how to help people in having a better mental health and can thus lead to be healthier and happier.



Author:

Catarina Chambino – Research Analyst


References

Ferguson, Sian. 2020. "Yes, Mental Illness Can Cause Physical Symptoms — Here's Why". Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/mental-illness-can-cause-physical-symptoms.

Woodend, Ashleigh, Vera Schölmerich, and Semiha Denktas. 2015. "“Nudges” To Prevent Behavioral Risk Factors Associated With Major Depressive Disorder". https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4605172/.

"Mental Health By The Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance On Mental Illness". 2021. Nami.Org. https://www.nami.org/mhstats.

Heitor, Dr Maria João. 2021. "The Effects Of COVID-19 On Mental Health | Hospital Da Luz". Hospitaldaluz.Pt. https://www.hospitaldaluz.pt/en/health-guide/health-and-wellness/243/effects-covid-19-mental-health.

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