Mental Health Awareness Week: 6 Things to Help Free Your Mind

The barriers and stigma surrounding mental health issues are facing their toughest test yet.

More and more people – famous or not – are finally speaking out about the problems, that society still faces, when it comes to discussing a topic that is still shockingly under-funded and under-discussed.

Talking about mental health, its funding and how and where to receive help, however, is still not taken as seriously as our physical health, which is why ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ -taking place between 8th and 14th May 2017 – is vitally important to those who suffer from mental health illnesses, those who work within the industry and for people who want to see those barricades torn down.

What can we do, individually and collectively, to help remove the stigma encompassing illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia though? Here’s six things that anyone can do to help themselves – or others – over the course of the week:

Get It Off Your Chest

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Only a fraction of the UK’s population (around 13%) stated that they were happy with the levels of their mental wellbeing during a recently conducted survey by the Mental Health Foundation.

Suicide rates in the UK, meanwhile, rose from 6,122 to 6,188 for the year ending 2015 – 75% of whom were male, 25% female – and over 18,000 people took their own lives between 2003 and 2013, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Those numbers provide an alarming indication of just how much more needs doing to combat the stigma surrounding mental health, and it remains vital that those suffering from – or have suffered from – a mental illness talk openly about their problems, and not be judged for doing so.

Ask your family, friends work colleagues and, hell, even strangers how they’re doing today. And genuinely mean it. It could be the biggest difference you make to them today.

Read a Self Help Book

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Seeing a psychiatrist or therapist is often a solution out of reach to people, particularly due to financial difficulties, and often the next best step, other than talking about problems with another person, is reading a self help book and working through any of the exercises within the pages of one.

Books such as Guy Winch’s ‘Emotional First Aid’, Mark Williams et. al’s ‘The Mindful Way Throught Depression’ and others can all act as aids in discovering when you’re most vulnerable to a trying period, and give tips, tasks and ways of helping you combat the dark moods known as ‘The Black Dog’.

Go Green and Enjoy the Outdoors

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Such is modern life, it is easy to get bogged down in our occupations, become dulled by the environment of motor vehicles and buildings around us and be distracted by our phones and TVs.

A change of scenery is often a positive thing, then, and what better way to gain some perspective by heading off to your local park or into the countryside? Being out in the open and fresh air can provide clarity and offer a reminder of just how beautiful this world is.

Bring yourself back to your centre by taking a stroll on a warm, sunny day and appreciate everything you see and hear.

Exercise Physically to Benefit Mentally

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It’s no surprise that people’s moods are notably buoyed after a bout of exercise. There’s a reason they call it “runner’s high”, you know!

With endorphins coursing through your body, those who regularly partake in physical activity can help to pump themselves full of chemical feel-good factors to help keep those inner demons at bay.

Forking out for a gym membership doesn’t have to be someone’s go-to solution either. A pleasant bike ride nearby, a jog around the park or even a brisk walk have been proven to elevate moods.

Meditate to Medicate

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Meditation’s popularity among all age groups has never been higher – no doubt in part to apps such as Head Space – and sometimes a brief 10-minute spell of focusing on nothing but your breathing can work wonders on your mind.

It’s often easy to get caught up in the rush of everyday life, so a few moments to reflect, find your centre and focus on the positive things in your life will provide a reprieve from the hustle and bustle that comes with feeling the stresses and burdens of the world.

Education, Education, Education

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Small steps are being taken everyday to eradicate the mental health stigma from society, but much, much more needs to be done.

As always, the best way of spreading the message is through education. Looking up statistics, finding new and innovative ways to combat these illnesses, and offering up insights are just a few methods that will help to inform other people about mental health, what it represents and how we can go about fighting the shame that is brought on those who suffer in silence.

The more people who are aware, and who are willing to make a change, of mental health will aid our push to end this stigma, and help to make our society a more open, accepting and empathic civilisation in the long run.

 

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Fight Off Your Demons: The Battle Continues

One year. One whole year has already passed. It feels so surreal.

It’s bizarre to think that, on New Year’s Eve 2015, I was stuck in the midst of another unrelenting battle to keep myself from circling down the proverbial drainpipe into another pit of self loathing, misery and depression.

It only feels like yesterday that I was sat at my desk, laptop open and alcoholic beverage nearby, typing out the thoughts as they came to me. It was difficult to write, it was even more anxiety-inducing to publish, and it was terrifying to show my family and friends something I was even afraid to admit to myself.

That night, I vowed to attempt to become a better person, to become mentally healthy, to test myself in ways I hadn’t done so before and become the individual I saw myself becoming years ago.

Now, 2016 has come and gone and, staying true to the promise I made myself that night in 2015, I went back and re-read that deeply personal blog post of mine to see how far I had come.

The honest truth? I’ve not come as far as I had envisioned.

mhLooking back, I still found myself ducking out of some social engagements. I got stressed out over simple things like journeying home from work, frantic to get back to my house and just relax for the evening – a bittersweet irony, given how much I worked myself up on the bus about getting home. I lost my temper far, far too easily with those closest to me over the most insignificant of things. I’m still yet to summon up the courage to begin conversations with people who I’d like to meet or, even more personally, chat to women I find attractive. And I didn’t make the most of other opportunities when they fell in my lap.

It hasn’t all been bad though. I started the year by earning a gold standard diploma for my journalism studies – an achievement I never thought I’d be rewarded with. I picked up the fitness bug, spending most of the year running and building my stamina, and have been a member of a gym for almost five months now to build up my strength. I went to gigs to see bands I’ve wanted to see for years. I watched films that made me think about life differently. I got a job that makes me get up in the morning. And, perhaps most importantly, I realised how lucky I am to have the family and friends that I do have.

It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up. – Vince Lombardi

With a New Year, then, comes a fresh start. It’s something of a cliche to hear people around this time of year come out with phrases like “New Year, New Me”, but I genuinely feel like such a mocked phrase could actually be relevant to me as I continue on to become the best version of me I can be.

In order to do that, changes need to be made. As someone who’s very much a creature of habit, said change won’t come easy, but if I want to continue up this road of fighting off my demons, change must occur.

With that in mind, here’s a few things I plan to do this year:

  1. Spend less time online and, in particular, less time proscrastinating on social media. It’s time to stop comparing myself to others, and the perceived fun that they’re all having, on the likes of Facebook and Twitter. I want to create new, happy memories of thoroughly enjoyable times of my own, and add them to those I’ve already got.
  2. Read the self-help books that will go some way to helping me sort my mind out. They’ve been sitting on my shelf for a while now and, if I’m to continue down this road of recovery, I’ll need all the help I can get.
  3. Continue my pursuit of becoming a fitter version of myself. This will include more gym sessions and less comfort food – the latter especially if I don’t stick to the former. I’ve got a new workout programme to follow and, all being well, I’ll see it through.
  4. Begin meditating again, especially on days when I don’t physically work out. Even if it’s just 10 minutes at some point during the day, finding some space and time to centre myself and find some peace will be beneficial.
  5. Meet, talk to and hang out with new people. No matter how nerve wracking it is, it would be good to get a handle on my social anxiety and become comfortable interacting with anyone.
  6. Appreciate the small things in life more, and stop stressing about things that genuinely don’t matter. Why get worried about journeys home? Or stressing about what I need to get done every day? Things work out in the end, regardless of time, so I need to quit putting so much pressure on myself for no reason.
  7. Spend more time in the company of family, friends and loved ones. My support group is important to me, and I’d like to give time, effort and other things in return for that.
  8. Vow to stick to the vast majority of the above points. In the event that I slip up on them from time to time, I’ll try not to beat myself up over doing so. Be kind to yourself, Tom.

img_1155It’s easy to write the above points down, and think I’ll stick to them just because we’re a couple of days in to a new year, but I have to become and remain determined, honest, confident, self-aware and hopeful that I can achieve them.

Nothing in life worth pursuing is easy, especially when you feel like most every day things are such a toil due to the mental struggles I’ve had, and continue to have. However, I really, really want to spur myself on and, knowing that I have the support and belief from family, friends, colleagues and relative strangers, I can go a lot further than I’ve already done.

I’m ready, 2017. Let’s do it.

Opinion: Chris Brown comments symptomatic of mental health stigma

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The world has come a long way over attempting to remove the stigma surrounding mental health.

Where once people were detained under the Mental Health Act and locked away in psychiatric hospitals, individuals are now given counselling, medication and support to overcome depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, to name but a few.

Internationally-recognised names such as Stephen Fry, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the late Robin Williams have all helped to bring awareness over mental health issues into the mainstream media.

And, even in the past week, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and Prison Break star Wentworth Miller have gone on record to talk about their own battles, particularly with depression.

But the shame about speaking out over these illnesses continues to persists in spite of the good work done thus far.

Comments such as those made by singer Chris Brown demonstrate that much more needs to be done on tackling this issue.

The less-than-popular singer took to Twitter on 29th March to slam fellow R&B star Kehlani for looking for sympathy after an apparent suicide attempt.

At the time of writing, the 26-year-old’s tweet has been retweeted 52,000 times, and has received over 60,000 likes.

Now, of course, a number of those could be ironic likes and retweets from fellow users to publically shame Brown for his insensitive thoughts and attitude towards the 20 year old’s suffering.

But, like it or not, Chris Brown is famous and adored by fans of his music – and his comments can, and most likely will, be taken as gospel by some who read it and those people in turn will close their minds to such plights.

It is remarks of the ilk of Brown’s that show just how much more we need to do to alter the perception over mental health.

Suicide attempts are not “a coward’s way out”; nor should they viewed as “looking for sympathy”.

They are genuine cries for help for a person who sees no other alternative than to take their own life.

That the only option they believe they have left is to commit such an act shows the dark depths that some people are stuck in, and that cause them to act in this manner.

But, thanks to comments like Brown’s, the stigma surrounding mental health will encourage these types of views, opinions and judgments.

We must continue to educate, inform and break down the social barriers and the taboo over mental health.

Only then will we, as a species, be more sympathetic, kind, nurturing and understanding towards anyone struck down by these invisible illnesses.