Mental Health: Prevention is better than cure


Vanessa Bennett

The intersection of psychology and neuroscience demonstrates there is a lot that people can do to prevent mental health problems, according to Vanessa Bennett, CEO of Next Evolution Performance.

“Around half of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime,” Ms Bennett says. “However, in the same way that you don’t usually go from being physically fit and well one day, to being debilitated by illness the next, you don’t usually go from enjoying mental health to suffering mental ill-health overnight. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that many more than half of all Australians are either suffering a mental health problem or are somewhere on the spectrum away from enjoying mental health, and that’s too many.”

Ms Bennett says research reveals that each of us has a different level of natural mental fitness depending on a range of factors, including:

  • genetic predisposition
  • our experiences as a child and as an adolescent
  • our innate reaction to physiological stress
  • the way we naturally process information and the way we learn to process information

“However, despite any predisposition to mental health problems, there are a variety of tools we can use to help build our own mental fitness as well as the mental fitness of the people around us,” she says. “The biggest super power we all have is what we call attentional control.”

Attentional control is the ability to focus attention on helpful rather than unhelpful thought processes. “This is arguably the most powerful way to use neuroplasticity to increase mental fitness and therefore avoid mental health problems.”

Ms Bennett says we can train our brains to avoid mental ill-health, in the same way we train our bodies to avoid physical ill health and the tip is not to wait for a bad experience before starting that training. “That’s like waiting until marathon day before starting physical training,” she says. “We need to build mental fitness to help us cope with life’s challenges in advance of them happening. Prevention is better than cure.”

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as: a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

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