Mental Health Awareness Week
A couple of weeks ago it was Mental Health Awareness Week. Mental health is finally being considered as something we should all take notice of in ourselves, those we care about and work with.
Not so long ago, mental health was not a 'thing'. If someone was struggling, there wasn't any help or support for them. People were shunned from society if they weren't 'normal'. We are lucky to now have the support we need and the knowledge we have about mental health.
Mental Health First Aid training course
I recently went on a two day training course called Mental Health First Aid. Within the first hour I realised something about myself that I hadn't before. I have always automatically assumed that what was meant by 'Mental Health' was illness, a negative association. But mental health can mean good mental health. It can be feeling calm, relaxed or happy. It doesn't have to be a negative thing such as depression or anxiety.
Being a yoga teacher outside of my office job means I know that feeling calm and at peace is essential to living a healthy life. Reducing stress and anxiety is paramount to keeping our body and mind healthy. What I had never taken the time to do was to notice that this is classed as good mental health. It surprised me to realise this. It seemed so obvious but no-one had said that to me before. It's not a separate thing from the phrase 'mental health'. And it's also not the case that we fit directly into the good or bad part. It's a scale. It might be that we are balanced in the middle of the scale and something happens in life that sends us one way or the other. If it's to the good part, we are ecstatic, peaceful, happy. If it's the bad, we might end up with a mental health disorder which sees us asking for help to overcome or manage it. Everyone is as susceptible as anyone else. We shouldn't think that it can never happen to us. I think losing the idea that mental health only means illness opens it up as a topic for people to talk about. It takes away the idea that mental health is something to be scared of.
The two day training took us through many of the mental health disorders; how to spot symptoms, how to offer help yourself and where to refer people to for professional help. We spoke about depression, anxiety, panic attacks, personality disorder, schizophrenia, suicide. And this isn't all of them. It was an intense two days.
I learnt loads of information that I hadn't had the opportunity to before. I found it really useful to learn how mental health disorders can express themselves. What was even more useful was learning about how to deal with colleagues or students who might be suffering. Before this course, it would have been something I shied away from as I wouldn't have known what to do or whether what I was saying was correct. We are quite often caught up in our own head, thinking about our own things. Going on this training opened my eyes, teaching me to look around and notice what's happening to others. Showing compassion to your work colleagues is important. If someone is quiet and subdued one day and this isn't their normal behaviour, be sensitive to this. They might have things going on that you don't know about. It taught me to look out for changes in people's behaviour and gave me resources to turn to if I felt I needed them, for myself or others. I would urge anyone, if presented with the opportunity, to go on this course.
Remember to take a break
Mental Health Awareness Week dedicates an entire week (8th-14th May) to raising awareness of mental health. This week removes the taboo surrounding mental health. The University offers loads of positive workshops to help to counteract any problems people might be having with their own mental health. Rather than focusing on the negative side of mental health (the view that mental health is bad or scary and where people might disassociate from sufferers), this week promotes the idea that we should all take better care of ourselves. We should all make an effort to reduce our stress levels, breathe more deeply, take regular breaks away from our desk. Although we can't control everything that happens to us, we can control how we react to it. Taking the time to make sure your stress levels are low by doing the things you love like walking your dog, swimming, seeing friends all help to make sure we keep ourselves mentally fit. We will then react better to those moments in life that might send us off balance. Just as we would go running if we'd put on a few pounds, we also have to exercise the mind and keep it fit. If we forget about it, it is more susceptible to illness - exactly the same as our physical body.
Although there is a week dedicated to raising awareness, it's important to remember that our own mental health is something we should bear in mind all the time. Whenever you can feel that you are off balance, that you might be sliding down the scale, try and catch yourself. Life produces many traumatic events for us to get through. Without scaring you, it's these types of events that affect our mental health and can leave us with depression, anxiety, panic attacks etc. The more you can do to make your mind fit now, the less these events may affect you if they happen.