World Mental Health Day 2014 is highlighting schizophrenia. This is not a condition that I know much about, but given that it's one of the most common, serious mental health conditions (statistically, one in 100 people will have one episode of schizophrenia in their lives), there's a fair chance that someone I know may need support one day and I'm grateful that WMH Day has prodded me into learning more.
I had a hazy, outmoded impression of schizophrenia as 'split personality disorder', but summarising it very briefly, it's a long term condition where sufferers may lose touch with reality, see or hear things that are not there, hold irrational beliefs and may appear to act strangely because they are responding to these delusions.
When I began writing the blog I may not have intended it, but one of the recurring themes for me has been about the contentment (and resultant good mental health) we have found when engaging in activities which are simple and cost very little. I'm not saying that this is a preventative measure for serious conditions such as schizophrenia, whose causes are uncertain and for which clinical treatment and psychological intervention will be necessary, but in terms of reducing everyday stress and anxiety, there's much to be said for slowing down and un-complicating life.
When I thought about some of the things that I know boost the mental health of my family, I was glad to see that they have been the themes of previous World Mental Health Days. They include some of our top mental health boosting activities:
Mealtimes provide 'social and psychological benefits, to share anxieties, have them listened to and hear other perspectives.'
This one's a biggy for me - producing healthy food (without spending too much) and sharing the food and good conversation with family and friends makes me very happy.
It has even been claimed that more family meals together equates to less drug and alcohol use by teenagers.
|An Autumn Walk|
Looking after yourself including 'keeping active, drinking sensibly, doing things you're good at and caring for others'.
I've shared many of our walks and cycle rides here on the blog. You know the adults here like the odd glass of red wine and we like doing things that we good at (or would like to get better at, like playing musical instruments).
|Tea and cake with friends!|
Tea and Talk. This is possibly my favourite thing in all the world! I also like my own version, without the talk, Tea and Read.
Mindfulness - a mind-body based approach to really paying attention to the present moment. This is another personal favourite. I've had a longstanding interest in meditation, but completed an 8 week mindfulness course last year and use some mindfulness techniques in the adolescent anti-anxiety programme I work on. With a personality that verges towards the 'worrier' end of the spectrum, a regular mindfulness practice helps keep me grounded.
The Mental Health Foundation's Be Mindful website is a great place to start if you are interested in finding out more. Although many mindfulness practices stem from the major religions (in particular, Eastern religions), the standard mindfulness programme is secular in nature and suitable for people of all faiths, or none.
I don't force anybody else in the family to meditate but I do try and ensure that the children have some quiet screen-free time every day.
Screen-free evenings definitely ensure better Sleep for all of us. Actually sleep has never had its own World Mental Health Day, but I would put it high up on the list of activities that promote good mental health. Not too much and not too little, a good 7-8 hours sleep can really boost happiness.
All of these activities are intertwined. Eating healthily and exercising makes it easier to sleep while sleeping well makes it easier to eat healthily and gives you the energy to feel like exercising. Practising mindfulness makes it easier to carry out all those activities with more attention.
It is worth mentioning the theme for last year's Mental Health Day too, Older Adults. Old age may bring problems of loneliness, isolation, depression and dementia. WMH Day 2013 focused on how we can ensure that the good mental health of older people is supported through lifestyle choices, better social connections and active citizenship. The Mental Health Foundation publishes a guide: 'How to look after your mental health in old age' which is downloadable for free. It's good to see a private elderly care home in Salisbury, Gracewell Healthcare, rising to this challenge through meaningful activities and events such as arts and crafts, yoga and organised relaxation walks.
However old we are, from the very young to the very old, we all have mental health, whatever its state, and according to the Mental Health Foundation, at any time one in six of us will be experiencing some form of mental distress. World Mental Health Day is a really good reminder that it is worth paying as much attention to our mental health as we would to our physical health.
What's your favourite mental health boosting activity?