The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day every year on the 10th October. It’s a chance to talk about mental health, think about how we can look after it, and encourage those who need help to seek it. This year’s focus is ‘Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’.
In the past, mental health hasn’t been very well recognised let alone prioritised. People who had mental health problems were deemed ‘crazy’, and were often separated from communities and subjected to inhumane ‘treatments’. Thankfully, in 1959, the UK Parliament passed The Mental Health Act which started a chain of events that integrated mental health services into the wider NHS. Treatments are now less invasive and more effective, and there are increasing numbers of mental health charities to help support people. The Equality Act of 2010 also means it is now illegal to discriminate against people dealing with mental health problems in the workplace, while using services such as hotels, hospitals and public transport, or when buying/renting property. We have come a long way, but there is still work to do. Unfortunately, mental health services are overwhelmed, and waiting lists for treatment can be years long, making them inaccessible for many of the people who need them, when they need them.
The public perception towards mental health has also been shifting over the years, but some stigma still remains. Unfortunately, 90% of people with a mental health problem will experience shame and discrimination, whether that be within their relationships, at work or during treatment. Even more heartbreakingly, 26% say this resulted in suicidal ideation. It’s for these reasons that I love to hear people talk openly about mental health; normalising this is so important. The shame I felt on being diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2012 prevented me from talking to many of my friends and family about it for years, which consequently meant I didn’t get the support from them that I needed, and it took me a lot longer to recover. On average, it takes people who are suffering over a year to tell their families and friends about their mental health problem which exacerbates their difficulties, and delays their treatment even more. Now, out the other side of recovery, I’ll happily talk to anyone about my experience with mental health in the hopes that it raises awareness, improves understanding, and helps anyone who is suffering feel less alone and more open to talking.
I like to think about mental health in the same way as physical health, and with the same level of importance (the two are actually very intertwined); we all have mental health and it’s important we take care of it. This comparison also extends to when we experience ill-health; sometimes this is a result of not taking good enough care of your physical or mental health, and other times it’s just pure bad luck. It’s vital that we attach the same value to mental health as we do to physical health. If there are signs of a serious problem, we should address them at our earliest convenience, and seek professional help if necessary. We should feel no shame for this, and even when there aren’t signs of problems, we should still be engaging in behaviours that are protective of our mental health, just like we do with our physical health.
On that note, here are some things I find helpful to maintain or improve my mental health:
- Journalling/free writing – when I’m feeling confused, anxious or overwhelmed, I like to get my thoughts out onto a page. There’s no judgement on a page, and getting your thoughts out helps to process them, and maybe see patterns or understand behaviours that you couldn’t before
- Getting out in nature – living in a city centre can sometimes make this difficult, so I’ve also turned my flat into a mini jungle by building up a collection of houseplants to take care of
- Going for a walk, or if I’m feeling energetic, a run – the benefits of exercise reach far beyond the physical; regular exercise has been shown to lower stress levels and improve mood
- Yoga and meditation – I find regular practice, no matter how long, is really helpful to slow down my mind when it’s racing, and help me think about things clearly even in times of stress
Most importantly, if you need extra support, you should talk to someone, a friend, a family member, a colleague, a therapist, or all of the above. You are entitled to help. Talking openly and honestly about how we feel is not only helpful for our mental health, it also encourages others to be more open about theirs. This ultimately plays a part in reducing the stigma that is still attached to mental health problems. Next time someone asks “How are you?”, I challenge you to give the honest response (it’s a lot harder than it sounds!).
With 2/3rds of the people who are suffering with mental health problems believing that work stress was a contributing factor, I am so grateful to work for a company that promotes employee wellbeing and offers a range of resources to support this. We have an internal, online POD containing a wealth of wellness resources including articles, recipes and affirmations from the Reward Hub, documents about how to look after your mental health, and inspirational videos and workshops. There’s also a Wellness Action Plan available to go through with your line manager if you want to, which delves deeper into the specifics about what can be done to support your mental health in the workplace. I personally find the existing flexibility around work hours at Makara hugely beneficial to my mental health – if I’m having a bad day, I know I can take breaks whenever I need, and make up the time when I am able to. There is the understanding that, although work is important, we all have lives outside of the office too, and it’s okay to work around our other priorities. Working alongside friendly and supportive colleagues is, of course also a huge benefit. Maintaining a good level of mental health improves our productivity, our physical health, our relationships, and our quality of life. This alone, in my opinion, is a good enough reason to make it a priority in our lives. But there is another reason it needs to be a priority – sadly, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem every single year, and some of whom will likely struggle in silence. Creating environments where people feel supported, respected and safe to talk about their mental health is crucial if we are to reduce the stigma, and encourage those who need it to seek help. Show compassion to others always; you never know what they’re going through. But, just as importantly, be equally as kind to yourself.