What is mental health? What is Mental Health Awareness Week? And why does it matter?
Our mental health is all about how we think, feel and behave.
What’s more, we all have mental health; sometimes it is great, and we feel fantastic - just as we would after physically working out. At other times, we experience poor mental health and suffer. In this blog post, I'm going to provide you with some practical tips on Kindness - this year's Mental Health Awareness Week theme.
But what is Mental Health Awareness Week?
Mental Health Awareness Week was pioneered by the Mental Health Foundation who aim to raise awareness of mental health (both good and bad), encourage others to speak out and share their experiences, and create lasting positive change for those in need of help.
It all sounds great so far, but do we really need all this attention on mental health? Well, yes - the facts paint a pretty dark picture:
- 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem every year – that’s 16 million of us
- The average wait for effective treatment is 10 years
- Suicide is the biggest killer of people aged between 20-34 in the UK
- Depression is one of the leading causes of disability, affecting 264 million people worldwide
- Poor mental health cost the UK economy £105.2 billion each year, poor mental health at work cost £34.9 billion last year equating to poor mental health problems costing £1,300 for every employee in the UK economy
So yes – we need as much attention on mental heath as possible, especially and crucially, as we continue to cope with isolation and social distancing. Fittingly, this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is Kindness as it strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. More than ever, we need kindness right now; for ourselves, our families, friends, colleagues and communities.
But what is ‘kindness’? And what does it mean or take to be kind?
If you are kind, you are generally seen as friendly, generous, considerate, but perhaps naive or weak. However, that is not the case. Being kind often requires courage and strength. It requires a sense of selflessness and doing things for others without expecting anything in return.
I was often seen as the ‘nice, kind, people pleaser’ type who wouldn’t dare say no when someone asked for help or a favour. I thought that I had to behave this way to be liked, keep friends and avoid being that tough, aggressive b***h in the office.
Oh how wrong I was! Over the years, I've learnt that you have to be just as kind to yourself as you are to others, and that putting yourself first is by no means selfish. You can still make time to be kind to those you care about. You're not constantly exhausted either because you safeguard time to care for yourself.
I’ve also seen how the simplest and smallest act of kindness can have the biggest impact, and that kindness is laughter. By performing kind acts, I feel better, happier, more fulfilled but only when it is not at the detriment of my emotional heath.
There are countless studies showing how doing a selfless act for someone else rather than yourself improves our happiness – just read Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton to see how science has proven this time and time again.
At Foolproof, we are exploring what it means to be kind and taking advice from Sonja Lyubmoirsky (The How of Happiness) to perform random acts of kindness over the next week and beyond.
We are also well aware of how important it is to be kind, given the extraordinary circumstances we face in lockdown. The media is filled with reports that we're heading for a mental health crisis, so we're doing all we can to lessen the pressure on our NHS and lift one another's spirits.
Small gestures that went a long way for us/others in recent weeks:
- A few of us have received thoughtful and unexpected gifts
- Everyone’s being particularly generous with time and resource
- Tim and Rita each led a cook/bake-along
- Larissa hosts a weekly quiz over tea and cake
- Zoe introduced the appreciation jar where we recognise one another's hard work via post it
- Mike devised a conversation roulette wheel to spark spontaneous check-ins
- Harpal and the Front of House team donated Easter eggs to a London food bank
And we’re encouraging everyone to be kind to themselves by:
- Writing appreciation letters
- Creating daily self-care routines
- Reflecting on each day and celebrating all you have achieved, dealt with and got done
- Starting a Kindness diary and writing a note to yourself, detailing what went well that day etc
- Keeping a gratitude journal e.g. I am grateful that I don’t have to commute into Central London every damn day
- Finding those silver linings and thinking about what has been surprisingly good during lockdown? For me, I have taught my parents how to use FaceTime (a huge achievement, believe me)
- Thinking about the worst case scenario. Bizarrely, looking at the worst possible situation makes us realise how good we have it.
- Resting! We no longer have to commute each day so are using this time to rest, learn new skills, exercise, get creative in crafts, learn a new language, cook more, dance!
We're also sharing lots of suggestions on how to be kind to our friends, family, housemates and our community. Here are a few:
- Bake a cake for your neighbour
- Virtual escape room with colleagues and a few beers
- Send an appreciation message to a friend
- Skill swap with someone (teach code in exchange for poker lessons)
- Donate to the local food-bank
- Remind friends and colleagues how awesome they are
- Share memes, videos and jokes with friends
- Play virtual boardgames
- Send a takeaway to a key worker
It seems that Aesop was right when he stated:
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted"
So I urge you to be kind in all that you do for others and, importantly, for yourself. If you'd like further information on mental health, or tips on how to be kind to yourself and others at the moment - feel free to reach out, I'd love to help.
Otherwise, keep smiling and stay kind.