by Toni Grosvenor
What springs to mind when you stumble upon the term “mental health”? Do you assume that it is only applicable to those who suffer under the umbrella of mental illnesses? Maybe your initial thought is one of judgement, one that places having mental health problems as a sign of weakness, shame, or any other stigmatising adjective that has been circling through the media for centuries. You might even know someone personally who struggles with their mental health, however, you are unsure of how to help them overcome these difficulties. Well, don’t worry, readers, because in this month’s edition of Let’s Get Brainy, I will be breaking down the common misconceptions surrounding this important issue, as well as providing a couple of tips and tricks to make sure that you can look after the mental health of yourself and others.
First and foremost, a frequently studied factor in improving mental health is exercise, since there is a proven, intrinsic link between the state of your mind and the state of your body, called the ‘mind-body connection’, in which your thoughts, feelings and attitudes can influence your physical health, and vice versa. Many medical sources discuss the psychological benefits of physical activity, however, due to its mouth-watering name, I will be using Mayo Clinic’s article to explain the relationship between exercise and stress. One such positive effect of exercise is that it gives you a rush of endorphins (which, in simplest terms, are chemicals that the body releases to alleviate pain and to promote pleasure), such as dopamine and serotonin, the two main happy hormones. Physical activity also assists in reducing the negative physiological effects of stress like high blood pressure and headaches, as it helps your body imitate the effects of stress while also allowing it and its systems to practise working together through those effects, therefore, being advantageous to your cardiovascular system, your digestive system and your immune system, leading to improved mental wellbeing.
According to research conducted by the University of Sheffield, approximately a third of the population exhibit symptoms of insomnia and around 17% of adults are currently suffering from mental health difficulties, with cases set to rise in the future. A study conducted and published by Sleep Medicine Reviews, involving researchers from the same university, shows the correlation between getting a good night’s sleep and a reduction in signs of depression and anxiety, by combining the results of 65 randomised controlled trials, involving over 8,000 people, utilising a technique called meta-analysis. The results also highlighted the significant benefits to mental health regardless as to whether the volunteers in the trials had any physical conditions, as the lead author of the study, Dr Scott, states.
Finally, I know some of you may want to shove my head through a brick wall when you read this, however, switching off the incessant pinging of your mobile phone and setting down your devices can sometimes be a necessary lifesaver for your emotional wellbeing, because there are a plethora of statistics which emphasise the link between spending hours and hours staring at your screen, and a decline in confidence and stress management.
World Mental Health Day is celebrated annually on October 10th in an attempt to raise awareness surrounding the daily challenges that people with mental health issues face, the thousands of resources out there that can help people with or without these difficulties maintain control of their mental health. In addition, it also works towards destigmatising the symptoms, causes and treatments of different mental disorders. Everyone has mental health, and it’s an incredibly important part of yourself that you need to take care of, especially in unprecedented times such as these past couple of years. Experiencing mental health difficulties is also absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and it is not a sign of weakness in the slightest, and neither is getting help, regardless of whether you suffer from a particular disorder. You wouldn’t resist going to the doctor if something is physically wrong, so why should you deny assistance and bottle up your problems when something is bothering you inside your head?
Further Reading and Resources
Below are links to not only the studies referenced in this article, but also a plethora of charities, crisis lines and organisations that are designed to help people struggling with their mental health. If you think that you or someone you know may benefit from any of these services, I sincerely recommend that you consider taking a look at what they have to offer, because there is absolutely no shame in getting the help you need. So, until November, be sure to stay happy and healthy, until the next edition of Let’s Get Brainy!
Exercise and Stress – https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469#:~:text=It%20pumps%20up%20your%20endorphins,contribute%20to%20this%20same%20feeling.
Sleep Study – https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/healthy-lifespan/news/major-study-shows-improving-sleep-leads-better-mental-health
Social Media and Mental Health Statistics – https://www.depressionalliance.org/social-media-and-mental-health-statistics/
Samaritans – 111 623 (to call in emergencies) and https://www.samaritans.org/
Childline – https://www.childline.org.uk/
Kooth – https://www.kooth.com/ Mind – https://www.mind.org.uk/