Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental Health Awareness Week was first created in 2000 by the Mental Health Foundation and is held every year in May to help increase awareness of mental health conditions and to try and shift the taboo surrounding them.
What is the aim of Mental Health Awareness Week?
A lot of people are scared of talking about mental health issues because of the stigma attached to them and go without treatment for far too long. This can lead to exacerbated symptoms from their illness.
For example, the Mental Health Foundation suggests that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime and around 450 million people worldwide currently suffer from a mental illness. With this in mind, they have found that nearly 9 in 10 people affected by a mental health issue have said they have had problems with stigma and discrimination, which have had negative effects on their lives.
This is exactly what Mental Health Awareness Week aims to combat. The awareness week also aims to look at the difference between “surviving and thriving”, with the Mental Health Foundation suggesting that “Good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem”.
The focus of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is on stress and how people cope with it. Stress can affect your whole body, causing a chain reaction of changes within yourself in an attempt to deal with what the body perceives to be a threat (fight or flight reaction).
During Mental Health Awareness Week, The Mental Health Foundation is asking people to not only find the source of their own stress but evaluate the stress we cause for others. This is being called at your stress footprint and you can find more information regarding this on the Mental Health Foundation’s website.
The key message that the Mental Health Foundation are keen to emphasise this year is…
We can’t afford to under-estimate stress or avoid making the changes needed for a less toxic approach to living.
What is Mental Health?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Mental Health as being “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
However, when someone’s mental health starts deteriorating for whatever reason, they can suffer from a mental illness. There are many types of mental illness and below are some of the most common.
Anxiety is when a person feels uneasy or fearful and they find it extremely hard to control these worries. These feelings can be prolonged and negatively affect that person’s life. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions, with it being either a symptom of a different mental health condition or is its own condition, which is called “Generalised Anxiety Disorder”.
The mental disorders that commonly have anxiety as a symptom are:
- panic disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- social anxiety disorder
Anxiety is not the only symptom of these conditions but is a large part of them.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a long-term condition where you feel anxious about multiple parts of your life, rather than a single event. People who suffer from GAD rarely feel totally calm and relaxed and are anxious pretty much every day. It can be exhausting.
The most common symptoms of anxiety are feeling restless or worried, having trouble concentrating or sleeping and having bouts of dizziness and heart palpations. GAD affects an estimated 5% of the population and the NHS suggest that GAD can be caused by the following.
- over activity in the brain areas regulating emotion and behaviour
- an imbalance of brain chemicals involved in the control of mood
- a history of traumatic experiences
- having a painful long term condition
- a history of substance abuse.
There are treatments available, however, to help you defeat anxiety. Psychological therapy can help condition your mind to cope better with your anxiety triggers, using treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). There is also medication available to help rebalance the chemistry in your brain with the use of antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
The NHS also suggest that there are other methods that can help you relax and reduce your anxiety, which includes going on a self-help course, exercising regularly, stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol and caffeine.
Depression is an extremely serious illness that can totally transform a person’s life. A lot of people can feel down now and again, but depression can last for days, months or even years, and leave a person feeling low consistently for that time. It can make people not want to go out or do anything and can cause them to become introverted and have relationship problems.
There are a wide variety of symptoms associated with depression, and they can differ from person to person. These symptoms include persistent feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness, being tearful, not interested in things they usually enjoy, anxious, angry, sleeping too much or not enough, and feeling tired, no appetite, lower sex drive and various aches and pains.
Symptoms can either be mild or more severe, with people suffering severe symptoms having suicidal thoughts. Depression can be brought on by significant changes in someone’s life such as a death, losing their job or even having a baby, but equally, there may be no significant life event that has caused depression. A lower amount of serotonin in the brain is thought to cause this illness, which can be managed with certain antidepressants like SSRIs. The mind is a fragile thing which is why depression is quite a common condition with 1 in 10 people suffering with it.
Depression is treatable or manageable, with a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes and, if needed, medication.
Bipolar or manic depression is a condition that can cause your mood to swing between two extremes. Sometimes a person will have episodes of mania or hypomania (less severe mania) where they are full of energy and overactive. But this can quickly change to severe lows and depressions where they feel sad and have much less energy.
These episodes can last several weeks or be fleeting and some people can often not experience a balanced mood for quite some time. Symptoms of the depression episode include feeling sad, irritable, hopelessness, lethargy, emptiness, worthlessness, guilt, despair, lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping and suicidal thoughts.
This can change when you enter the manic stage which has symptoms including feeling happy, overjoyed, elated, energetic, talking very quickly, being easily distracted, being delusional, hallucinations, making decisions that are out of character and feeling self-important.
The two moods are total parallels and can be disconcerting for the person and their close ones at first. However, episodes can be helped with treatment and give that person a more normal life. These treatments include mood stabilisers to prevent mania and depression to be taken every day, medication to fight the symptoms of the either episode, learning to recognise triggers of an episode, psychological therapy which can help with depression and lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, improving your diet and getting more sleep.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that affects a person’s mind with a variety of physiological symptoms. Schizophrenia is often considered to be a type of psychosis and can distort reality for a sufferer. This condition is usually long-term and will need a treatment regimen to help combat the mental illness.
Symptoms of schizophrenia often include hearing or seeing things that don’t exist, delusions, muddled thoughts and changes in behaviour. Symptoms of Schizophrenia can occur before someone has their first full schizophrenic episode. These include a general withdrawal from social activities and not caring about their appearance or personal hygiene.
Schizophrenia can be caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental influences. Schizophrenia is a condition of the brain, and it can run in families however there isn’t one clear gene that causes it. Also, if there are complications during the baby’s pregnancy that it can increase the risks of them developing Schizophrenia. For example, the risk is increased if the baby is born underweight, have premature labour or have a lack of oxygen during birth. Drug abuse can play a major part in someone developing Schizophrenia as well. Drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, LSD or amphetamines can trigger the condition in people who are susceptible.
Why is Mental Health Awareness Week important?
There are plenty more types of mental illness including eating disorders, phobias, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to name a few others. If you do feel like you may be suffering from a mental health condition, it is vital you seek professional help or at least talk to someone, as these conditions can have a drastic effect on a person’s life if left untreated.
It is not only adults who can suffer from mental ill health as The Mental Health Foundation have also found that mental health issues affect 1 in 10 children, but around 70% who experience a problem go without sufficient treatment at an early enough age.
It is these sorts of things that Mental Health Awareness Week wants to help try and eradicate. It aims to make sure people know how to be alert to signs of possible mental health problems in loved ones or themselves and also aims to show that people who suffer from mental illness do not need to be discriminated against.
Last year’s awareness week theme was relationships. Healthy relationships are crucial to our mental wellbeing and are an equally important factor to helping mental health as eating healthier and stopping smoking, which is still an important message.
If you would like more information on Mental Health Awareness Week then please visit the Mental Health Foundation website.