Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 takes place from 16-22 May, with the theme of relationships. In the old days, we lived in communities; problem-solving together and sharing stories. These days, relationships are put behind a screen or after a career which is generally stressful.
I have worked for mental health charities since 2010, and currently work for a project which predominantly provides support for anxiety and depression. Why does this matter? 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime, including writers and, in theory, characters too.
Now, we all have health – good or bad. If you have a cold, you may say you are ill, or “have ill health” for a few days. Afterwards, you’re “healthy” again.
The same happens with mental health: people may experience a period of anxiety or low mood where they have ill mental health, and once that passes, they will be “mentally healthy.” The point is that we all have mental health, good or bad, all the time.
Equally, some people live with physical conditions like hayfever, diabetes or chronic pain — they may have good periods and low periods, but medication and/or lifestyle changes allow them to manage this.
Again, mental health is the same. Someone experiencing mental health problems may have periods of feeling okay, and maybe have times when there is no trigger: sometimes they are having a period of struggle. They may take medication, or they may alter their diet and exercise routines.
What Can We Do?
Personally, I’ve watched friends and family struggle with mental health, and I’d say that like most people, I’ve had my fair share of stress and low mood. When I go through a period of anxiety, I often feel the need to control my environment. I experience almost OCD-like symptoms; with obsessional thoughts, avoidance behaviours and compulsions to rectify perceived worries. At other times, I can go months without really seeing any symptoms of these mental health struggles.
The key thing about Mental Health Awareness Week for me, is to really stress that we cannot see another person’s mental health.
Someone who hears voices may talk to them while holding up a telephone to their ear, so we have no idea.
Someone mumbling on the train may be rehearsing lines for a poetry reading, not talking to hallucinations.
We cannot see or hear mental health, and thus we need not judge others for it. And thus, I really wish that we can edge closer to kindness for other people. You don’t know what that person has or hasn’t experienced.
If anyone reading this struggles with low mood or anxiety, some suggestions for managing a wellness routine may include:
- Exercise: with someone else or music to shut the mind’s negative thoughts out.
- Limiting substances: cutting back on caffeinated drinks and alcohol for that period of time.
- Relaxation: anything which will stop the body sending those fight-or-flight signals to a panicking brain.
- Balance: look for ways to make the scales match on recuperation time and getting things done – wash up then dance for fun before you call the dentist and then go for a walk to treat yourself.
- “Thoughts are not Facts“: having a worry does not mean it’s the truth, or that it’s going to happen. As yourself “Is this thought helping me?”
- Relationships: connect with someone; be it a tiny “hows you?” text or a long hand-written letter, a phone call or best of all, meeting in person for a slice of cake.
Since this year’s theme is relationships, perhaps we should think about this term in it’s broadest sense. A relationship is a connection made between two beings — you have a “relationship” with every person with whom you interact.
Think about your partner, your children, your parents and friends; but also think about that human being you pass in the street. Count every 4th person you see, and know that they may experience mental health problems. In a room of 4 people, the one who experiences those problems may one day be you.
The main aim for Mental Health Awareness Week is to get people talking about mental health. Let’s break the silence, pull away the stigma, and learn about these often-invisible conditions.
Do you have lived experience (through your own or friend’s) of mental health problems? Do you have any management strategies you can share?