St Peter's School

11 October 2019

Today is Mental Health Awareness Day and that, along with the recent focus on climate change or climate emergency with the imperative for us to live in a more sustainable way, has made me reflect on how much has both changed and not changed since I was at school.

The cliché is that we lived in a simpler and better age without the evils of modern technology. Some type of Garden of Eden before the Fall but while part of me hankers for the slower pace I am not sure it necessarily made life better or worse and many elements of my life are immeasurably better, smoother and more interesting today than they were then.

When it comes to the environment however, it depresses me that we were taught about the same environmental problems as today.  Fossil fuels, global warming, species extinction and the importance of recycling.  When you look at the state of the environment today it has to be acknowledged that our generation failed to take proper action when we had the chance.

One thing that has improved is greater openness about mental health and the importance of positive mental health. I cannot pretend that we were particularly aware of this when I was a teenager. There were times when we were happy and times when we were not but I never particularly considered it as something you could do much about.

It may seem that a focus on mental health is relatively modern but The Mental Health Foundation was founded 70 years ago and they have produced a number of excellent guides. A key idea is that we all have mental health in the same way we have physical health. We are brought up with a focus on looking after our physical health, spotting signs of when we are unwell and the remedies to improve. Mental health is the same and can be seen as a continuum from positive or good mental health to negative or poor mental health and it is part of the human condition to be on that sliding scale.

In your recent vote on key issues for the UK Youth Parliament, Mental Health scored the second highest number of votes.  It is something we as a school community care about and have as a priority and in the same way we take steps to look after our physical health we can do the same for our mental health and often they are the same steps.

www.mentalhealth.org.uk has some very useful summaries of those things we can do to look after our Mental Health and provide a list of several key areas.

Good mental health is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil a number of key functions and activities, including:

  • the ability to learn
  • the ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions
  • the ability to form and maintain good relationships with others
  • the ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty

Talk about your feelings

Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled

Keep active

Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Exercise keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy, and is also a significant benefit towards improving your mental health.

Eat well

Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.

Keep in touch

There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face to face, but that’s not always possible. You can also give them a call, drop them a note, or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open: it’s good for you!

Ask for help

None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things don’t go to plan.

If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear.

Local services are there to help you.

Take a break

A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health.

It could be a five-minute pause from cleaning your kitchen, a half-hour lunch break at work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.

Do something you’re good at

What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past?

Enjoying yourself can help beat stress. Doing an activity you enjoy probably means you’re good at it, and achieving something boosts your self-esteem

Accept who you are

We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else. Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends. Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.

Care for others

Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together.

An expectation to be happy all the time may be unrealistic but there are positive things we can do to look after our mental health and that is the same for me as for you, my colleagues.  It is something that I have been more conscious of in recent years and I notice that, when I focus on that which contributes to positive mental health, I have a greater sense of contentment and gratitude and find that when life becomes busy and pressurised that I have a greater sense of optimism that ‘this too shall pass’.  It can be simple things – yesterday it was going for a run after work followed by a trip to the shops with a craving for chocolate. It may not always be easy but I hope that knowing that mental health is something we all have in common will encourage you to seek support and take action when you experience challenges in life.