I never quite imagined that I would fall into a line of work that would have such a role in the state of people's mental health as I do. However, it does make sense as mental health has been such a tremendous theme in my life and is, I believe one of the most important themes of all humanity. Less and less mental health is stigmatized and more and more it is becoming part of our everyday conversation, but I truly believe we still have so much further to go and to fully understand.
There are times in all of our lives when we can feel 'off' or as if things can start to feel too much. Stress and pressure at work, with family or socially can become a weight that feels hard to carry sometimes. Perhaps we are experiencing uncertainty and worried about finances, relationships or even our health. Perhaps there has just been a series of events gone wrong and it feels as if our luck will never change for the better. Life can feel tough, can feel overwhelming, and it can feel pretty lonely sometimes. A very big majority of people will feel some of these things occasionally in their lives, or very often.
We may shake it off and think it isn't a big deal. We may not want to burden those around us with our problems, so hold it all in, and hold it all together. We may even feel ashamed and guilty for feeling the way we do as we may feel that we are being ungrateful, that we are weak, being selfish, or overly sensitive. Not being able to nurture our mental health by seeking support, learning healthy coping skills that help us navigate the difficult times, and not being able to identify when we do need help can be counterproductive and even dangerous.
After the year we have had and are still having, we are seeing an unprecedented deterioration in mental health on a worldwide scale, and scientists are concerned we are seeing a mental health crisis. Now more than ever before, it is so important to bring awareness to our own mental health and to really understand and be caring about the mental health of all those around us. "More than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December, an increase from 11% the previous year. Data from other surveys suggest that the picture is similar worldwide. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00175-z.
Research on the effects of the pandemic on our collective mental health continues to grow, especially on the most vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and new mothers, young people, and low and middle-income groups. You can see some of that research here: www.covidminds.org
It is no surprise then, that with such a decline in mental health and an increase in anxiety, depression, and loneliness, there has been an increase in the consumption of alcohol, drugs, nicotine, and, very sadly a devastating increase in suicide. It is imperative that we shine the light on mental health right now and seek ways to improve it, for ourselves and those around us.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a much-needed spotlight on the importance of mental health and wellbeing, which is under-supported in most countries around the globe. As we note in our paper, mental illness impacts nearly a third of working-age adults in some countries, and only a small proportion is able to access evidence-based treatments that provide a favorable chance of recovery. Now is a critical time to invest in mental health. We argue that it is wise to do so proactively and embed services within the context of citizens’ everyday life, from social care services to school and work." -Dr Lara Aknin, Chair of the Mental Health Task Force
Let's hope governments everywhere will implement changes and support necessary to help us address this critical issue, but in the meanwhile - what can we do to make immediate changes necessary to improve our own mental health?
First - Recognize The Signs.
1. Feeling anxious or worried
We all get worried or stressed from time to time. But anxiety could be the sign of a mental health disorder if the worry is constant and interferes all the time. Other symptoms of anxiety may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, sweating, trembling, feeling dizzy, restlessness, diarrhea, or a racing mind.
2. Feeling depressed or unhappy
Signs of depression include being sad or irritable for the last few weeks or more, lacking in motivation and energy, losing interest in a hobby or being teary all the time.
3. Emotional outbursts
Everyone has different moods, but sudden and dramatic changes in mood, such as extreme distress or anger, can be a symptom of mental illness.
4. Sleep problems
Lasting changes to a person’s sleep patterns could be a symptom of a mental health disorder. For example, insomnia could be a sign of anxiety or substance abuse. Sleeping too much or too little could indicate depression or a sleeping disorder.
5. Weight or appetite changes
For some people, fluctuating weight or rapid weight loss could be one of the warning signs of a mental health disorder, such as depression or an eating disorder.
6. Quiet or withdrawn
Withdrawing from life, especially if this is a major change, could indicate a mental health disorder. If a friend or loved one is regularly isolating themselves, or refusing to join in social activities may be a sign they need help.
7. Substance abuse
Using substances to cope, such as alcohol or drugs, can be a sign of mental health conditions. Using substances can also contribute to mental illness.
8. Feeling guilty or worthless
Thoughts like ‘I’m a failure, ‘It’s my fault’ or ‘I’m worthless’ are all possible signs of a mental health disorder, such as depression. You, your friend or loved one may need help if they’re frequently criticizing or blaming themselves. When severe, a person may express a feeling to hurt or kill themselves. This feeling could mean the person is suicidal and urgent help is needed. Call help immediately.
9. Changes in behaviour or feelings
A mental health disorder may start out as subtle changes to a person’s feelings, thinking, and behaviour. Ongoing and significant changes could be a sign that they have or are developing a mental health disorder. If something doesn’t seem ‘quite right, it’s important to start the conversation about getting help.
The Next Steps:
1. Seek Support
Reach out and speak to someone and start the conversation. Talk to a friend, a family member, or partner. If you don't feel like you have anyone you can talk to, find a counselor or therapist. It's easier than ever to find help without even leaving your home with online platforms like BetterHelp, TalkSpace, Online-Therapy, or make the visit to your GP to get referred to someone in person.
Find a place where you can connect to like-minded people, feel seen, feel heard and connected too. It can be online or in person. Community provides a sense of belonging and support.
3. Move Your Body
Exercise can help increase your mood, boost your self-esteem, improve your sleep and focus. Moving your physiology affects your psychology and keeps you healthy. It really does make a difference. Move any way you can, as often as you can. Sometimes our low mood is showing us we haven't moved enough lately.
4. Eat Well
Food can be comforting, but what we eat can make a huge difference to how we feel. The brain, our gut, and our hormones all affect how we feel emotionally and all need certain key nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to work optimally. Much research has been found to link poor diets with a decline in mental health. So some of the things we eat that we think will make us feel better ( junk food), actually in the end make us feel worse. The same can be said about what we drink. Alcohol is often used to make us have fun - when really, it is a depressant. Be mindful of our expectations vs reality with alcohol. Caffeine can also increase our anxiousness so be mindful about perhaps cutting back or eliminating when anxiety is high.
5. Connect to Nature
There is a lot of good research that points to nature as being a great therapy and support for our mental wellbeing. In fact, it is the theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week UK Campaign. Check out their website for more tips on how to connect with nature...mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week/tips
6. Do Something You Love
Sometimes we get too busy to do what makes us happy, or we prioritize things that we think we should be doing for what we really want to do. When we do what we enjoy, we are getting closer to bein 'in joy', and closer to ourselves. Plus, we tend to enjoy the things we are good at, so that also helps to boost our confidence and self-esteem.
Lack of sleep or poor sleep can make us feel moody, irrational, and irritable. Sometimes a good nap, or taking time off work can make the world of a difference to how we feel. Don't feel guilty for resting. It is so important for you, and for those around you.
8. Self Love
Learning to love and accept ourselves no matter how we are feeling is so important to how we perceive life and life's events. We can cope much better when we feel good within ourselves, and that starts by learning to love ourselves, exactly as we are. Learn how to recognize the negative self-talk/judgment and learn how to replace it with acceptance and compassion.
Happiness research shows that when we are helping others, it makes us feel good in return, almost more than anything else. I believe it is because we are putting more importance on someone or something else rather than fulfilling our own ego.
I hope this blog has helped raise awareness once again and get you thinking about your own mental health, or perhaps the mental health of those around you. Sometimes we are impatient with ourselves, and with those around us when in fact, we need more support than ever. I can't stress enough how important our mental well-being is and how much harder it has been for so many recently. Perhaps you yourself haven't been affected this past year personally, but I am sure you don't have to look very far to see someone who has. We can all do with flexing our compassion muscles, reaching out and starting conversations.
Please use the resources listed above for further research and please get help if you think you need it. You are incredibly important, more so than you may think.
I will share more about my personal journey with mental health in the next blog... for now, take care of yourself.