Over the course of the last week, activities have been going on up and down the country raising awareness for Mental Health; from runs to gardening, cycling to sing-a-longs.
Mental Health Awareness week is an annual event; this year it took place between 12-18 May, and dealt with the theme of anxiety.
Our social media feeds and new streams have been buzzing with open and honest stories from real people about their struggles. It has been truly inspiring to see so many people come forward to share their experiences and lessons learned with the rest of us.
Dive deeper to find out what the signs of anxiety are...
ubu CEO, Dorothy Jarvis-Lee, talks about depression and how, as with so many other health issues, one size does not fit all.
Depression is difficult to live with. The stigma surrounding mental health diagnoses means that many don’t seek medical help and when they do getting the right treatment can prove hard.
Each year 50 million anti-depressant prescriptions are written. It is encouraging that more people are seeking help and it’s great that the medical profession is stepping up to the plate to offer help – but is it always the right support?
Depression is a form of mental illness and as with so many other health issues one size does not fit all. Anti depressants have their place but increasingly better alternatives are available that involve minimal or no drugs.
Support when a diagnosis is made is great, but as with all illnesses it is a two way street. While there is a responsibility on the patient to ask for help, society has a part to play to recognise the symptoms and offer support before intervention is inevitable, but also create the right psychological space for people to live and work in. It’s the old adage ‘prevention is better than cure.’
More could and should be done to ensure that both the space we inhabit, the opportunities we have, and the people we surround ourselves with, all boost our mental welfare.
During Mental Health Awareness Week we should all examine how we and those we love, live their lives and what steps could be taken that would improve them psychologically.
Key issues such as change and insecurity, relationships, opportunity, being in control of our own destiny and workload are all factors that have an impact.
Here at ubu we have made environments a key part of our uStep programme over the last 30 years.
It has constantly been updated as we have trialled and observed different ways and recorded how they have made a difference to the people we serve. The improvements have been amazing. For some a small change was needed to make a big difference while others have benefitted from a complete overhaul of their lifestyle, often involving a change of home, career guidance, new friends and often a change in medication. Placing the people we serve very firmly in control of their own destinies and letting them know that they have a major role to play in their own improvements, by letting us know what they want to achieve within their lives.
That has been their part of the psychological contract – telling us what they want. We have then worked to fulfil our part of the bargain with or without the support of society, families and friends.
By listening and then working alongside the people we serve, we have helped improve the lives of people who society had previously written off as beyond all hope and often shut away out of sight.
ubu believe that no one is beyond hope and that by encouraging people to be what they could be, they will become what they should be. Our ethos reaps rewards as more of the people we serve reduce their reliance on intervention and medication. And as they are able to live more independent lives fulfilling their own ambitions, society is also winning by benefitting from the reduction in health care costs.
During Mental Health Awareness Week we should all look for an opportunity to create a more positive psychological environment for everyone - to prevent, not cure depression.
What are the signs of anxiety and how do you spot them?
Life is full of potentially stressful events and it is normal to feel anxious about everyday things. There can be a single trigger or event that raises anxiety levels, but generally it may be a number of things that increase anxiety levels, including exams, work deadlines, how we think we look, going on a first date or whether we feel safe travelling home late at night.Anxiety has a strong effect on us because it is one of our natural survival responses. It causes our minds and bodies to speed up to prepare us to respond to an emergency.
These are some of the physical things that might happen:
- Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
- Fast breathing
- Weakened/tense muscles
- Churning stomach/loose bowels
- Dry mouth
Anxiety also has a psychological impact, which can include:
- Feeling worried all the time
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of concentration
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling depressed
- Loss of self-confidence
It can be hard to break this cycle, but you can learn to feel less worried and to cope with your anxiety so it doesn’t stop you enjoying life.
How can you help yourself?
- Talking it through
Although it can be difficult to open up about feeling anxious, it can be helpful to talk to friends, family or someone who has had a similar experience. Although you might feel embarrassed or afraid to discuss your feelings with others, sharing can be a way to cope with a problem and having someone to listen to you can help you feel supported.
- Face your fear
You are more likely to do the things you want, or need, to do by breaking the cycle of constant avoidance. The chances are the reality of the situation won’t be as bad as you expect, making you better equipped to manage, and reduce, your anxiety.
- Know yourself
Make a note of when you feel anxious, what happens and the potential triggers. By acknowledging these and arming yourself with tips to deal with these triggers, you will be better prepared in anxiety-inducing situations.RelaxLearning relaxation techniques can help you calm feelings of anxiety. Practices like yoga, meditation or massage will relax your breathing and help you manage the way you feel about stressful experiences.
Even small increases in physical activity levels can trigger brain chemicals that improve your mood, wellbeing and stress levels. This can act as a prevention and treatment for anxiety as well as lead to improved body-image, self-esteem and self-worth.
- Healthy eating
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables and try to avoid too much sugar. Very sweet foods cause an initial sugar ‘rush,’ followed by a sharp dip in blood sugar levels which can give you anxious feelings. Caffeine can also increase anxiety levels so try to avoid drinking too much tea or coffee.
- Getting help
If you feel anxious all the time, for several weeks or if it feels like your anxiety is taking over your life, then it’s a good idea to ask for help or try one of the websites or numbers listed at the back of this booklet. It may be hard to admit to fears that most other people don’t seem to have, but asking for help is a sign of strength. The first step is usually to see your GP who will be able to advise you on the different treatments available.Talking therapies like counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are very effective for people with anxiety problems. CBT helps people to understand the link between negative thoughts and mood and how altering their behaviour can enable them to manage anxiety and feel in control.
Mindfulness is a variation of CBT focusing on changing the relationship between the individual and their thoughts. Using meditation can help people be ‘mindful’ of their thoughts and break a pattern of negative thinking.
Guided self-help is usually based on CBT methods and aims to help the person understand the nature of their anxiety and equip them with the necessary skills to cope with it. This works by educating the individual to challenge unhelpful thinking, evaluate their symptoms and gradually expose themselves to the source of their anxiety.
Medication is used to provide short-term help, rather than as a cure for anxiety problems. Drugs may be most useful when they are combined with other treatments or support, such as talking therapies.
Support groups are designed for individuals to learn about managing anxiety from asking other people who have experienced it.
Local support or self-help groups bring together people with similar experiences to share stories, tips and try out new ways of managing their worries. Your doctor, library or local citizens advice bureau will have details of support groups near you.