Making mental health and well-being a priority
The theme for World Mental Health Day 2022 is ‘making mental health a global priority’ which is particularly pertinent given the scale and impact of the difficulties being faced by so many people around the world. This process begins with each of us taking steps to address our own individual mental health needs as well as ensuring that we work collectively to enhance emotional well-being amongst those around us, including our families and friends and the wider community.
Mental health difficulties are common in the general population and it is highly likely that at some point in our lives we will all be affected by mental health issues, either directly or indirectly when someone close to us is affected. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about mental health in society and whilst considerable progress has been made in recent years, stigma around mental health can and does still persist. Mental health difficulties, especially depression and anxiety, are also very common amongst survivors of acquired brain injury and can result from the brain injury itself but also the longer term physical and cognitive effects of the brain injury on everyday life.
Awareness of our own mental health and well-being, being mindful of changes in our mental health and taking active steps to manage these changes is crucial in terms of reinforcing a sense of personal control over our emotions and our mental health. These active steps may at first appear quite small but small changes can often have very significant positive effects on our health and well-being, both in the short and longer-term.
Positive changes to enhance our mental health and well-being include consideration of our lifestyle, physical health and well-being, including ensuring that we eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise, moderate our alcohol intake and establish a good sleep routine. Regular participation in social, leisure and recreational activities is also very important - withdrawal from social contact has been shown to be a significant risk factor in terms of developing mental health difficulties due to increased isolation.
Positive changes can include what are collectively referred to as ‘self-management’ strategies to manage mental health, including using relaxation and mindfulness to help with sleep, stress and anxiety, accessing self-help books from the bookshop or library, listening to audio-books or podcasts full of inspiring real-life stories and practical tips and strategies which can be applied in everyday life.
Positive changes can include learning to be more open about our feelings, worries and concerns with those around us and making sure that we let those close to us know that we will take time to listen to them if they need to do the same. This does not mean we necessarily have to try and solve anyone else’s problems (often just listening and acknowledging how someone is feeling can be enough) and whilst bottling emotions up inside can be helpful in the short-term, it is rarely if ever a good way to manage our difficulties in the longer-term.
Positive changes can also include speaking to a health professional about how we are feeling – often this would be our GP in the first instance. This may seem be a daunting prospect but it can also represent a potentially life-changing first step towards seeking help, perhaps after a long period of keeping our true feelings hidden inside.
There are lots of very helpful resources available to help manage our mental health and well-being, including specialist web-sites, books, podcasts as well as counselling, therapy, support groups and community-based activities on a local basis.
A series of useful mental well-being audio guides are available for free at www.nhs.uk and there is plenty of free information, materials and resources available at www.getselfhelp.co.uk and at www.headway.org which are specifically designed for survivors of acquired brain injury.
There are lots of Apps available via Apple Store / Play Store, including ‘Headspace’ and ‘Calm’ which include mindfulness meditation and relaxation approaches and ‘Anxiety Solution’ which is a good source of practical information, strategies and approaches.
There are also lots of books available at the usual retail outlets and via local libraries, including ‘Why has nobody told me this before?’ By Dr Julie Smith (Publisher: Michael Joseph, 2022) which includes lots of tips, insights and approaches drawn from the author’s experience as a psychological therapist.
Further information about accessing suitably accredited and experienced counselling psychologists, clinical psychologists and neuropsychologists in your local area can be found at www.bps.org.uk
In summary, World Mental Health Day is a reminder of the importance of actively managing our own emotional well-being and taking steps to help those around us to do the same. How we do this in practical terms can take many different forms and what works for one person may not necessarily work for everybody. Also, making positive changes to improve our mental health and well-being does not mean that we have to change everything - starting small and building from there is more likely to be sustainable in the long-term.
Remember, managing our mental health is just as important as managing our physical health and whilst both can require time and effort in the short to mid-term, the positive effects in the longer-term can transform our lives.
Dr Andrew Harrison
(Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist)
Andrew is a Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist with 25yrs experience working in the field of neuropsychological rehabilitation. After qualifying as a clinical psychologist in 1997, he worked for 3yrs in a charitable hospital in London followed by 13yrs with the Scottish Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service, Astley Ainslie Hospital, Edinburgh. In 2013, Andrew joined Case Management Services Ltd and became a company director in 2015 with responsibility for the development and provision of clinical and medico legal neuropsychology services. Amongst his professional commitments, Andrew currently serves as external examiner for the UK Qualification in Clinical Neuropsychology, the route by which new and established neuropsychologists become eligible for entry onto the Specialist Register of Clinical Neuropsychologists held by the British Psychological Society.