Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 (10 - 16 May) is upon us and never has the timing been more fortuitous. We have all been through a crazy year and as we emerge from the storm the repercussions of the stress we have been under are apparent. What can we do to help ourselves and each other with maintaining our mental health?
Over the past decade, some of the stigma around mental health has dissipated, although we are far from free and honest about how we feel. The innate British Stiff Upper Lip tends to rule our heads (no pun intended) and can prevent us - especially men - from talking about how they really feel. We either have an instinct to hide that we are struggling, or if we have voiced that we are down, there is an expectation that we should be ‘better’ after a few pills and a bit of talking therapy. But it doesn’t necessarily work this way. I know this from experience.
We live busy lives, full of noise and distractions. The coronavirus crisis put all that on hold and has forced us to become a little introspective, which has unsettled some of us. The tiny spheres in which we have been living for the past year has meant that there was no escape from our foibles, issues or niggles in our heads, and for some has had a really negative impact.
Thankfully, for the first time that I can remember there is a concerted effort from many organisations, including the government, to help people come through the other side. The UK government has announced that £500 million will be spent on expanded mental health services, including talking therapies and residential care, as well as an additional £17m to be spent in schools and colleges. Children and young people have been some of the hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic and this is a great step forward to acknowledge that they need help. (I think I was just labelled a stroppy teenager).
So how can you get involved, or just try to help yourself? Mental Health UK has highlighted five steps to improve your mental health and find some wellbeing:
Connect. Reach out to friends and family and start a conversation. Nourish relationships that we may have let wilt and try to develop your network of support once again. If you feel that someone may need you, reach out and see how they are.
Be active. The link between physical activity and mental health is well documented. I am not suggesting that you hit the gym for an endorphin rush, but dancing around the living room to your favourite tune, taking a brisk walk somewhere nice or just doing some gardening will give your brain time to decompress and help your physical wellbeing to boot.
Take notice. We have all heard about mindfulness and some of us may have dismissed it. So if you don’t fancy a full on gong bath, just start to realise your world. If something is super tasty, appreciate it. If there is a beautiful flower, stop to smell it. Something might surprise you and lift your mood.
Keep learning. Occupying your mind with a challenge is a great way to take yourself out of the things that make life hard right now. It might be an old hobby abandoned in a corner or a language yet unlearnt. Now’s the time to give it a go.
Give. You can interpret this word however you want. Give your time to a charity of your choice to make a difference. Give energy to friends and family that may have been neglected recently. Or give back to your community with a communal garden or other project.
These things are not a panacea, but are simple steps to potentially lift your mood and someone else's.
Please reach out if you need help. Or even if you don’t want help per se, just have a chat and get it off your chest. Or reach out to someone who may need it. Please ensure you visit your GP to access the NHS free talking therapies. But there are many organisations who can help. Here are a few:
The Samaritans - Call free on 116 123
Campaign Against Living Miserably - Call free on 0800 58 58 58
Mind - Call free on 0300 123 3393
Young Minds (for children and adolescents)
Rethink Mental Illness - Call free on 0808 801 0525