Defining Mental Health
We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. In the same way as our physical health can be good or bad, we can experience mental ill health or mental illness. Mental ill health is extremely common, with 1 in 4 people experiencing mental illness in the UK each year and this number rises to 1 in 3 for people in the Highlands of Scotland. The types of mental ill health conditions are varied and can include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders and many others. Some mental ill health conditions are brought on by life events, some are genetic, and others seem to come about without explanation. It's important to remember that mental ill health can affect anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, life history, or circumstances. For many mental ill health conditions, it's important to remember that there are a range of treatments available from professionals, and a range of things we can do ourselves to improve our mental health, or maintain it when things are going well.
Paths to Recovery
There are many paths to better mental health and recovery. Here are a few that we value and integrate into our support services:
In many studies, a person's social network is a key indicator of their wellbeing and happiness. Having someone to talk to when you're feeling down can be a great help and in cases of suicidal feelings, it can be life saving. Whether it's a friendly chat, a club, family occasions, a mental health professional, or someone close to you who you can turn to when you're feeling down, social support is a key factor in mental health.
Did you know that food can affect how you feel? Just like food has a profound affect on our physical health, it also affects our mental health. By eating healthily and fulfilling our nutritional requirements, we can enjoy a more stable mood and avoid mental illnesses that are caused by diet. There is a growing body of evidence linking our gut to our brain, and promising results of dietary changes improving things like anxiety and depression.
"If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented." - NHS
We've heard of 'mind over matter', but 'matter over mind' is often more helpful in mental health. Regular physical activity has a powerful effect on our mood and can improve our mental health. Find out about physical activity guidelines from the NHS here.
While there are a range of treatment and lifestyle options that do not involve medication, this approach does remain a vital part of some people's journey to recovery. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and antipsychotics are among the types of medications used to treat mental ill health. They can provide a respite from severe symptoms, allowing people to get through particularly tough periods of mental ill health in their life, or they can be used for ongoing symptom management (in cases of schizophrenia, for example).
Speaking to a professional who is trained in assisting people with mental ill health can be very helpful for some people. Specialists in counselling and therapy can guide people through a range of behavioural strategies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, as well as help them to reframe and integrate past traumatic experiences. Aside from these approaches, simply having someone to talk to who is non-judgemental and open to hearing whatever a person is going through can be a healing process in itself.
We facilitate regular projects that make space for creative expression, working with partners like Creativity in Care on a regular basis. Having a creative outlet can build confidence, increase self-esteem, and provide a safe medium to express emotions. Everyone is encouraged to be creative as children, but the societal value of creativity goes down as people busy themselves with other responsibilities. If you don't think you have a creative side, it's probably just been forgotten; the good news is that it can be remembered!
In the modern world, we are constantly being stimulated by smart phones, laptops, work, emails, deadlines, crowded streets, and increasingly can find it difficult to 'switch off'. It's important to be able to cope with the stresses of everyday life, and a key part of this is being able to remove these stresses and allow ourselves to fully relax. This could be by literally switching off electronics and doing something you enjoy, like reading or going for a walk, or something like meditation.
Sunshine, plants and natural surroundings have mood-boosting effects, particularly for cases of mild depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is caused by a lack of natural light affecting circadian rhythms. At Birchwood Highland, we value gardening highly as it gets people outside in the sun (when it's sunny at least!), fresh air, and involves physical activity. In Japan, doctors recommend a practice called Shinrin Yoku (Forest Therapy), which is simply spending time in nature. Studies have shown that spending time in natural environments like forests reduces stress and improves physical and mental health.