World Mental Health Day is celebrated on the 10th October every year and although it was founded in 1992 it has definitely been talked about more in the last few years than every before.
High profile people such as the royal princes and celebrities have really led the way and used their influence as a force for good on the subject of mental health. By discussing their own struggles with mental wellbeing and encouraging others to do the same they have removed a lot of the stigma that used to exist around mental health issues.
It isn’t long since illnesses such as anxiety and depression were kept behind closed doors and those struggling, then felt that not only had they got this huge issue to overcome but they felt unable to talk about it with anyone for fear of seeming weak.
The reality of course is very different.
Many people who struggle with mental ill health do so because they are incredibly mentally strong. They simply have so much to deal with, and do it with such grace, that no-one is aware that they are living an internal battle.
In my line of work I am very aware of changing attitudes to mental wellbeing and also see first hand all the statistics we all see on the news.
There are some worrying trends, that cannot be denied. Suicide and self harm rates are up for all age groups, from adolescents to adults, with particularly alarming trends towards self harm among teenage girls.
10% of children (age 5-16 years) have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder (source: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-children-and-young-people).
That’s at least three children in every class! And those are the children who have been diagnosed with issues which means it has been so severe that someone has referred them to a medical professional.
These are children.
What are we doing?
Don’t get me wrong, life isn’t always easy. But it shouldn’t be. I actually think that that is part of the problem. I have seen a shift over the last 20, even 30 years towards protecting children and young people from all pain and disappointment.
We don’t allow our children to be upset because they broke their favourite toy, we buy them a replacement.
Preventing them from doing things that we deem to be too dangerous, not allowing them to climb that tree at the park or learn to roller-skate in case they get hurt.
We give awards to everyone at sports day for trying instead of letting the child who is brilliant at running really shine that day and give the other children a small and very manageable dose of disappointment.
If we don’t learn these little lessons and develop that mental resilience, how on earth can we cope with failing our driving test, not passing an exam or being rejected in an interview process?
Learning to be more mentally strong is a challenge for everyone, with or without additional challenges. I am a huge advocate for learning strategies to strengthen our mental wellness before we need to use them. By having these tools and techniques ready in our toolbox we will use them quickly and easily when we really need them.
That is why most of my work is in schools. I am passionate about teaching children strategies to stay calm and happy while, for the most part, that that is their natural state. It is then something that they understand and is so natural and instinctive that they use their favourite breathing technique or they meditate, do some exercise, whatever works best for them, whenever they feel the mental malfunction monster knocking.
As a society we need to understand that it is through our challenges that we learn to grow. This must start in childhood. Protecting each other from pain isn’t doing us any favours.
I’m not saying that we need to intentionally hurt each other, that is very different, but some upset is character building. It strengthens our mental wellness.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
My sister overcame a huge fear this weekend. She intentionally went to a Go Ape with her school friends and spent two hours high in the trees, walking on ropes and swinging down zip wires. She is terrified of heights, but she decided that it would do her good, as part of her “special” birthday celebrations, to face her fears and tackle this head on with supportive friends who she has known for many years.
I wouldn’t say she found it easy, she didn’t. But she did it! She laughed and smiled (I’ve seen the evidence!) and enjoyed spending time with her friends, but most of all she had that amazing sense of achievement that you can only get from achieving something you didn’t think possible. If she had sat at home worrying about it, she wouldn’t have had that amazing buzz.
How are you going to mark World Mental Health Day?
You don’t have to climb trees or jump out of a plane, but maybe you could visit someone you know doesn’t get out much? Perhaps ring your Mum or your Nan? Check in on that friend who is having a difficult time? Just be there for someone who needs to know that they are loved and supported. Maybe you will choose this day to start a new wellbeing routine; find a yoga class, make a self care promise to yourself.
Whatever you decide to do know that if you are struggling today, you are not alone and there are people out there who want to talk to you and help you.
I’m one of them.
By all means reach out to me and ask my advice or just tell me your story. I’m always here.
Happy World Mental Health Day, let’s make it a happy and healthy one, for everyone!