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Mental health is a complex and often nuanced area of care, thus the importance of context cannot be overstated. Context can be defined as the natural, social, political, and economic environment in which somebody lives and interacts, as well as the impact of their individual past experiences and current circumstances. In other words, context is everything that influences your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When we say “context is everything,” we literally mean it is everything, and it influences everything. 

The context of a person’s life profoundly shapes their mental health. One study shows that poor mental health can be heavily attributed to the individual’s context, including social, economic, and environmental factors, such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, immigration experiences, and aging. Mental health was also linked to physical health and was reported to impact self-care and to exacerbate other medical conditions. 

If you’ve found yourself in the midst of therapy-Tok and endless mental health Reels on Instagram, then you’ve probably seen numerous memes and videos (some informational, some misleading, and some just comical) relating to how childhood trauma has caused some interesting outcomes in adulthood. As unserious as TikTok sometimes is, this is actually the very real concept of the power of context in mental health. 

But, reminder: Social media is not therapy or mental health care. Talk to your mental health care team if you are experiencing any mental health concerns as they are trained to provide the best care for you within context.

It is essential for mental health professionals to take into account the context and culture of a person’s life when assessing and treating their mental health. A thorough understanding of a person’s circumstances can provide invaluable insight into the causes of their mental health issues, as well as the best treatment plans for the individual. Context is everything, remember? 

So whether it’s a medical history that limits the types of treatment modalities able to be safely used, how the pandemic affected certain groups of people, or a more holistic understanding of the person’s current lifestyle and what can practically be changed in their life, context cannot be left out. 

At the same time, though, it is also important for mental health professionals to recognize the unique experiences of each individual and to ensure that they are not making assumptions about a person’s context based on preconceived stereotypes or assumptions. Patterns of behaviors are worth considering, but the idea of context means that the individual’s experiences, environment, and circumstances outweigh a mental health event recorded 50 years ago. (Which is why we’re huge fans of the ever-changing DSM and its evolving nature to update its content to acknowledge and account for changing contexts and new discoveries.)

Mental health care is not only concerned with what clinicians can provide. You are the one responsible for your own mental health. This is where mindfulness comes in, and context is just as important there.

Mindfulness is the conscious and intentional practice of being present and aware of the current situation and your thoughts, feelings, and actions in the present moment. This can include slowing down and consciously noticing your body, environment, and emotions, and behaviors while attending to them without judgment. Really, the concept of mindfulness already has the awareness of context built in.

It basically comes down to self-awareness and self-care, and simply “being present” is the first step. This empowers us to bring our attention to the present moment, without judgment and without attachment. That is, without making judgment about ourselves and others, and without expecting something specific to come from our experience. By taking a curious, non-judgmental approach to our feelings, thoughts, and external circumstances, we can cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness and acceptance.

As a more holistic approach to life, mindfulness goes beyond mere introspection. This looks like being self-aware, while focusing our attention on what we can control rather than worrying about things that we can’t. We may also be more mindful of our relationships, consciously cultivating connection and nourishing the ones that bring us joy and make us feel fulfilled, purposeful, and better than before. 

Our physical environment is also very worth acknowledging. Taking a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature and spending time outdoors can also be an important aspect of mindfulness. And it’s not just about being still and quiet; engaging with the world with intention and purpose is key. This can look like taking time to thoughtfully plan our days, setting aside time for activities that bring us joy, and finding ways to connect with our values. It involves being intentional with how we spend our time, energy, and resources, all while being aware of what we are attracted to and repelled by, and believing our own unique worth.

Mindfulness is an incredibly valuable practice that can help us build resilience and live in greater harmony with ourselves and the world around us. Along with mental health, it has become an increasingly important topic in our world of unprecedented stress and anxiety. Through the intentional practice of mindfulness with a greater understanding of context, we can develop healthier relationships, better mental health, and a greater understanding of what we need to do in order to cultivate a more peaceful existence.

For deeper empowerment through mindfulness and mental health, context is essential. We live in a world of constant global interdependence, but our individual experiences profoundly shape our understanding of ourselves, our emotions, and our behaviors. The influence of context is evident in the small nuances of our daily lives. It can be seen in the ways in which we interpret a simple phrase uttered by another, in the way a particular event makes us feel, and in how we interact with the world around us. By consistently considering context as we incorporate mental health into every aspect of our modern lives, we can move towards a world of greater understanding, deeper connection, and vastly improved quality of life. 

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