Strength in Mind: How to Support Your Mental Health on World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health Day, observed on 10th October each year, serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of mental health in our lives. In the United Kingdom, where the conversation around mental health has been gaining momentum, this day holds great significance. Chosen by the World Foundation of Mental Health, the theme for this year’s World Health Day is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’. 

With this in mind, we’ll dive into how mental health stands currently in the UK.

The State of Mental Health

Mental health issues affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life, and the UK is no exception. In recent years, there has been a positive shift in acknowledging and addressing mental health challenges. Initiatives like Time to Change and Heads Together have played pivotal roles in reducing stigma, encouraging open conversations, and promoting mental health awareness.

However, despite these efforts, the UK continues to face mental health challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing issues, leading to increased stress, anxiety, and depression among individuals. The demand for mental health services has surged, creating strain on an already burdened system. Young people, in particular, have faced unique challenges. These include rising concerns about the impact of social media, academic pressure, and isolation on their mental well-being.

UK charity Mind has reported that approximately one-third of adults and young people felt their mental health had declined a lot since March 2020. They also stated that 88% of young people reported that loneliness made their mental health worse during the pandemic. 58% of those receiving benefits said their mental health was poor.

Positive Developments

Amid these challenges, there have been notable positive developments in the UK’s approach to mental health:

1. Increased Awareness

The nation is becoming more aware of the significance of mental health. Media campaigns, public figures opening up about their struggles, and the presence of mental health in educational curricula contribute to this growing awareness. Additionally, the younger generations are being increasingly exposed to media that opens the conversation about mental health – the new wave of children’s TV shows exhibit ways that help build tools for processing and dealing with emotions, which aids their mental health.

2. NHS Mental Health Services

Investment in the NHS’s mental health services has also seen improvements. More accessible and varied treatment options are available, and the NHS Long-Term Plan has a strong focus on mental health. That being said, the overall accessibility and waiting times for mental health services could still be detrimental to one’s mental health, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists reporting that:

  1. 23% of patients wait more than 12 weeks to start treatment
  2. 43% say the wait leads to a decline in their mental health
  3. 78% of mental health patients on a hidden waiting list seek help from the emergency services

3. Employer Initiatives

Many UK employers have introduced mental health initiatives in the workplace. This includes training, employee assistance programs, and flexible work arrangements to support employees’ mental well-being. 

According to the Mental Health Foundation, almost 1 in 7 people experience mental health problems in the workplace (14.7%), with women in full-time employment being nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem compared to men in full-time employment – 19.8 and 10.9%, respectively.

Supporting mental health in the workplace has obvious benefits; happier employees, higher productivity, and lower staff turnover. Enabling a toxic workplace will have the reverse effect, ultimately costing companies more money through increased training and hiring costs, as well as lower productivity.

4. Mental Health in Schools

Schools across the UK are incorporating mental health education into their curricula, teaching students the skills to manage their own mental health and support their peers. 

Students with good mental health have an increased likelihood of engaging in school activities and having supporting and caring connections with their peers and adults. They are additionally found to use more appropriate problem-solving skills, be less aggressive, and add to a positive school culture.

What can we do to help support our own mental health?

Supporting your own mental health is a vital aspect of overall well-being. Here are some practical steps you can take to promote and maintain good mental health:

1. Self-Awareness:

Understand your own emotions and mental state; regularly check in with yourself to identify any signs of stress, anxiety, or depression, and take appropriate action if you start to notice a decline in your mental well-being. Note, that this is not something that will come naturally, but making a conscious effort to identify patterns in your feelings and behaviour can be hugely beneficial in looking after yourself.

2. Healthy Lifestyle:

Ensuring you’re eating a nutritious, balanced diet – with enough calories, exercising regularly, and prioritising a healthy sleep schedule all play a large part in maintaining good mental health. A lack of sleep, for example, can lead to inadequate nutrition and a lack of exercise due to tiredness, which in turn can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. Exercise is a free endorphin boost after all.

3. Stress Management:

Stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, or journaling are all tools for managing and reducing your stress levels.

4. Social Connections:

Although it can be difficult, maintaining strong social connections with loved ones is important for your mental health – people to make memories with, and talk to if needed. Having a reliable support network around you is crucial if/when things do start to slide.

5. Limit Screen Time:

Social media holes can be particularly problematic if your mental health is suffering, but limiting screen time can help to alleviate anxiety and depression – a reduction in comparative behaviours, doom-scrolling, and a lower chance of spending sleep time on your phone. Try to set boundaries on your screen time and take regular breaks.

6. Limit Alcohol and Substance Use:

Limiting alcohol and other substances (including caffeine!), can better your mental health substantially. Alcohol, being a depressant, has obvious detrimental effects on your mental status. In contrast, caffeine, for example, as a stimulant, can heighten feelings of anxiety (especially if consumed on an empty stomach). Limiting your intake of stimulants and depressants is certainly beneficial if you feel your mental health is at a low.

Challenges Ahead

While there have been commendable efforts, several challenges still need addressing:

  • Access to Services: Despite progress, many individuals face long waiting times for mental health services – greater investment is needed to reduce these delays and ensure that everyone has access to timely care, to prevent problems from worsening. 

  • Stigma: Though reduced, the stigma surrounding mental health is not completely eradicated – particularly in older generations. The more that mental health is spoken about, the more awareness is spread, and with that comes an increase in understanding, and a reduction in stigma and discrimination. 

  • Children and Young People: The mental health of children and young people remains a significant concern – properly equipping children with helpful tools and resources to better their mental health is pivotal.

  • Workplace Mental Health: While some companies are making strides, not all employers prioritise mental health in the workplace. Widespread adoption of supportive policies is necessary to not only benefit employees but also the company itself.

  • Preventive Measures: To truly address mental health issues, a shift towards preventive measures and strategies for building resilience is essential. Preventive approaches are key in bettering mental health; early intervention often leads to a sooner recovery/prevents worsening, as well as reduces the cost to the individual for potential medication/therapies and to the National Health Services.

By progressing and developing the above factors, mental health begins to become more compounded as a universal right. While there are of course some genetic predispositions to develop certain mental illnesses, having support and tools in place from a young age – starting at school, and as you graduate into adult life; in the workplace.

Remember that it’s okay to seek professional help if you’re experiencing persistent mental health challenges. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. Prioritising your mental health is an ongoing journey, and it’s essential to be patient and compassionate.

It’s important to celebrate the progress that has been made in acknowledging and addressing mental health issues. However, we must also recognise the work that lies ahead. It is a collective responsibility to prioritise mental health, reduce stigma, and ensure accessible and quality mental health care for everyone; it is a right. This starts with prioritising and looking after our own mental health; we can’t begin to help others until we know how to help ourselves.

So as we observe World Mental Health Day this year, use it as a chance to check your own mental health and the strategies/tools you use to better it when needed – if you don’t have anything in place, now is your chance to focus on helping yourself, so that you can help others further down the line.

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Meghan Foulsham

Published by Meghan Foulsham

Meghan's fascination with metabolism and the effect of diet on the body covered in her BSc Biochemistry, paired with being a passionate mental health advocate, led her to a Master's degree in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Using this, Meghan works with clients to help them reach their goals in the most sustainable way, without sacrificing or risking their mental health.

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