In our February magazine, we covered Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and looked at what nurseries and early years settings could do to help promote good mental health for the children in their care. This month we are looking at the Mental Health Foundation’s campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week but from an adult perspective rather than a children’s one. As we gradually ease our way out of another lockdown, the nation’s mental health has been thrust to the top of the agenda as people struggle to adjust to the changes faced in the last 15 months, and it’s never been more important to look after our own mental health, and have a care and concern for the mental health of our staff and apprentices too.
A 2016 report called the Fundamental Facts About Mental Health found that nearly half of all adults in the UK believed that they have had a diagnosable mental health problem in their lifetime, but only one third have received a diagnosis. The most predominant mental health problem worldwide is depression, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Depression is a primary driver of disability in many countries and depressive disorders also contribute to the burden of suicide and heart disease on mortality and disability, both of which have a direct and an indirect impact on the length and quality of a person’s life. In other words, a person’s mental state can also impact on their physical wellbeing.
The impact of the pandemic on UK adults has been recorded in a landmark Mental Health in the Pandemic study, being conducted by the Mental Health Foundation working with leading UK universities. It found that whilst anxiety about the pandemic has fallen from 62% of those surveyed in March 2020, to 42% in February 2021, feelings of loneliness have risen from 10% to 26% in the same time, and the number of people who said they were coping well fell from 75% to 64%. More people reported having feelings about suicide although feelings of hopelessness remained consistent at 18%.
Although mental health issues can affect anyone at any time of their life, the report identified certain groups that were significantly more likely to be feeling distressed however, compared to the general UK population, and these included:
- Young adults (18–24-year-olds)
- Full-time students
- People who are unemployed
- Single parents
- People with long-term disabling health problems
- People with pre-existing problems with their mental health
Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 takes place from 10 – 16th May 2021 and the theme this year is ‘Nature’, partly because during the pandemic, many of us turned instinctively to nature when all other activities were shut, but mainly because research shows that going for walks outside was one of the country’s top coping strategies for keeping ourselves mentally healthy, and connecting with nature through walking and exercise has been shown to increase our mental well-being, reduce feelings of social isolation, improve resilience and reduce stress and distress.
Reports from websites which hosted live wildlife footage from webcams saw increased hits of 2000% in the pandemic, suggesting that not only were we getting out more, but that we were also noticing nature more even if that was from the comfort of an armchair rather than a bench in a bird hide! As the Mental Health Foundation website says: “It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point, our fundamental human need to connect with nature.” They even go so far as to say: “Nature is our great untapped resource for a mentally healthy future” and during the week, they will be campaigning to not only connect more people with nature in new ways to improve mental health, but also to have decision makers recognise the links between the state of our mental health and the access we have to, and the quality of our natural environments.
Nature does not have to mean a wilderness however, if could be any environment where you can use your senses to experience the natural world: a park, garden, seaside, lake, mountains, some wildlife in your garden or the plants you look after at home. The key is to take a moment to notice the nature around you, connect with it and appreciate it. You can also share images/videos or even some sound recordings on social media using the hashtag #ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. You may want to look at our article on National Walking Month on page 38 for ideas on walking in nature too as part of National Walking Month.
The Mental Health Foundation believe that most mental health issues are preventable, and that there are 3 types of prevention:
- Primary prevention: preventing problems before they emerge
- Secondary prevention: prevention for people exposed to inequality
- Tertiary prevention: prevention for those already experiencing problems
At all stages, help is available, so here are some ways you can look after the mental health of yourself and your staff this May.
- Talk about mental health – put it on the agenda and make sure it is a topic which is discussed regularly
- Raise awareness of the week by adding posts or using the hashtags above on your social media sites
- Encourage a culture where stress-busting initiatives, such as getting out into nature, is part of the norm – it will not only help your staff but your children too
- Get involved in the campaigns around mental health by running an awareness event either in person or online
- Show your support for mental health issues by wearing a green ribbon or pin
- Reach out to people who may have found the pandemic difficult to cope with, especially if they are in the vulnerable groups listed above; this does not need to be in person if lockdown limitations are still in place, but a phone or video call can do wonders to help people feel more included
- Ensure you have robust policies in place to support you and your staff with any mental health issues
- Support staff if they are having difficulties by understanding their situation, offering your support, and helping them find solutions by giving information and advice about other charities and organisations that could help
Support organisations and information
- NHS Mental Health website
- Mental Health Foundation
- The Samaritans – or call 116 123 free
- Rethink Mental Illness