Feeling Good?

A post for Mental Health Awareness Week

Many of you have started following my blog in the past year or so, and may not be aware that I originally began this over four years ago to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others. From the comments I’ve received since then it appears that this has happened far more than I could ever have hoped, although I admit to having strayed off message quite a lot since then. You will probably also be unaware that I ran a series of ‘Dates To Note’ about key days in the calendar, mostly around health and social care. They can be found from the menu above, if you’re interested. Not wanting this to become stale or repetitive – I can do that without setting myself up for it – I stopped these as a regular feature two or three years ago. But this week has prompted a slight return, to borrow a phrase from Jimi Hendrix.

I’m slightly confused by this – it doesn’t take much – but I have seen various references (mostly American, I think) to May being Mental Health Awareness Month whilst here in the UK this week, from 8th to 14th May, is Mental Health Awareness Week. So, we have two ‘Dates To Note’ though as I’m British I’m concentrating on our week. This is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find their site here. The MHF do a lot of good work campaigning for better mental health, and provide a wealth of useful information on mental health matters. I commend their site to you if you want to know more. If you are in the States the equivalent organisation there is HealthyPlace, and you can find their site by clicking on the ‘Stand Up’ logo at the top of the column to the right.

For this year’s Awareness Week the MHF is turning things on their head. As they put it themselves, ‘Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.’ To support this they commissioned a piece of research which has found that, rather disappointingly, only 13% of us feel that we are thriving in this way. The report can be found here – it is fairly short and easily read, and includes a definition of what ‘thriving with good mental health’ means, in case you were wondering.

Having been diagnosed with depression five years ago, I am acutely aware that it is something which is never ‘cured.’ I’ve been off medication for more than two years now, but always have that underlying worry that I might slip back into ways which allow the depression to take hold again. My physical health has been far from good for the past two years, and this has rendered me more housebound than I would like. If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I know that this isn’t good for my mental health, but physical health needs are winning out at present. If you look at the MHF site you’ll find a brief survey to complete, which gives you an assessment of how well, or otherwise, you are thriving. It is only seven questions and takes a couple of minutes. Anyone who has been diagnosed with depression will at some point have completed an assessment like this with a doctor, though this one is slightly different in its focus. Having had a few recent pangs of concern, I approached this with some trepidation. As always with such questionnaires, the important thing is to answer as honestly as possible – lying to yourself is pointless! I took the survey, and this was my result:

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To be frank, I was pleasantly surprised at this, and found some encouragement from it. I would encourage you to take the survey – and if your score is low please consider visiting your doctor to talk it through. I know from my own experience that hiding from yourself, failing to accept that you might need help, can be very damaging. I was eventually off work for more than nine months, and have always felt that this could have been much shorter if I’d accepted the need to do something sooner than I did. So do as I say, please, not as I did!

The flip side of this coin is that you could take this test and get a similar result to mine, and think everything is alright. But there are limitations to such tests, and if you are at all worried about your mental health – if you feel that you aren’t thriving – it would be remiss to think that your result means you don’t need to do anything. As I say, I’ve had my own concerns recently, and these won’t go away simply because I’m ‘around the national average.’ Our mental health is precious, and I’ll be taking good care of mine, including signing up for the MHF’s package mentioned in the screenshot above. I hope you do whatever you can to look after yourself.

Regular readers will know how important a role music plays in my life. Indeed, it is one of many factors which contribute to our mental wellbeing, and is used in therapy. You may have recognised that the title for this piece is borrowed from a song, the most famous version of which is this, by Nina Simone:

I trust that listening to that will have raised your spirits a little! Have a good day, and be well.


Mental Health Awareness Week

MHAW main

If I were only to do one of these Dates of Note all year, this would be it. And if I wanted you to only ever read one of my posts, again, this would be it. From 13-19 May it is Mental Health Awareness Week. As you will know if you have read my previous articles, this is a cause which is very close to my heart. I have worked for twenty years – admittedly on the business side – in an NHS Trust which began as a specialist mental health provider, but has since branched out into a much wider range of services, reflecting the fact that treating mental health in isolation from other aspects of health is to provide only a part of the care that we need. In addition to this, I am officially ‘recovering’ from a period of depression which kept me off work for nine months, so I know at first hand what it can feel like to have a mental illness. Look around this site – there are plenty of clues!

The event in the UK is co-ordinated by the Mental Health Foundation and I strongly recommend that you click the link and visit their site. You will find all you could want MHAW-2013-get-involved-summto know about Mental Health Awareness Week, what it stands for and its history. This year the focus is on the link between physical and mental health, promoting the fact that good physical health can be a really positive force in improving our mental wellbeing, not just a ‘good thing’ that we should all be doing. Healthy living – eating properly and taking part in physical activity, of whatever type – is obviously essential, but not everyone realises the benefits that can be derived for those with mental health problems who can do something about their physical health too. I know – I’ve been there.

When I went back to work last summer I had a course at a gym with a personal trainer. To my surprise I actually enjoyed it and, along with working with a dietician to improve my eating habits, not only did I lose weight and improve my ability to do simple things like walk to the station or the shops, but I felt a huge mental boost in feeling good about myself. I still have ups and downs, as those close to me know, and these can still be quite severe, but my underlying health is much better thanks to my being more active. I’d be the first to admit that I’m still much closer to looking like Mr Blobby than Brad Pitt, but it’s all relative – I’m better than I was, and as a result I feel better mentally too. So please follow the link above, find out more, and get involved.

I know that many of those who follow this blog and/or are friends in life or on Twitter have experience of mental illness, either as a sufferer or from a loved one. I hope all of you can read this and, if you haven’t done it before, try the benefits of physical activity – you’ll be as amazed as I was.  And I hope anyone who has ever mocked, abused or bullied someone with mental health problems reads this, follows the links to learn a few things and then understands why their behaviour is crass, insensitive and contemptible.

If you’d like to know more about mental health in general, the NHS website is, as always, a superb resource, so do take a look. Another good source of information and help is the Stand Up For Mental Health campaign – this is an American site, and a lot of its content is USA-related, but mental illness occurs the world over so there is much good, relevant stuff here. You can also click on their logo at the top of the page, and if you like you can follow them on Twitter.

Finally, in the unlikely event that you want to know more about my own story, I originally published this last November. To save you looking for it, please follow these links:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Thanks for reading. If this helps just one person it’s been well worthwhile. And I hope you can get involved during the next week and stay active afterwards, for the good of both your physical and mental health. At the very least, if you’re on Twitter please add the Twibbon to your avi – although with some of my Twitfriends this may be misinterpreted!

MHAW Twibbon