This week is Mental Health Awareness week hosted by the Mental Health Foundation.
Bromley High alumna Hannah Buckland, a Mental Health First Aid England Accredited Trainer gives us her thoughts on this years theme – Kindness.
For me, there are two elements to the week ahead. One is to use the opportunity to raise awareness about mental health, what it means to us and how we can look after ourselves and those around us. The second is to promote kindness; how we can be kind to ourselves and each other and why it is so important.
Why is kindness so important?
Being kind to ourselves and to others increases our mental wellbeing and our physical health. We can all relate to a time that we received a card in the post from a friend with kind words, or a time we were given space to vent to someone who just listened without judgement or advice. We can also relate to acts of unkindness and how that stayed with us for hours, days, weeks or even years afterwards. The power of showing and being shown kindness cannot be underestimated and yet it is so simple. Kindness needs to come from a genuine, meaningful place, however the act of kindness does not need to be huge to have a lasting impact. Kindness (along with happiness and compassion) are skills that we can enhance. For example, understanding our ‘self’ and our ‘window on the world’ (from which we see and experience life), can increase our ability to show kindness and compassion and enable us to be non-judgmental towards others.
Being kind to ourselves
When I teach people about mental health and mental wellbeing, we look at what is in our ‘stress container’. There could be family worries, financial stress, past trauma, a physical illness, drug abuse, a new baby, the pressure of education or moving house, among many others. We then look at our coping strategies that we use to release stress. These vary from things like running, yoga, reading, drawing, talking to friends, knitting, and so many more. We can evaluate our coping strategies to see what we are currently doing to look after our mental health and wellbeing. Could we be kinder to ourselves by getting the right amount of sleep, taking ourselves out for a walk or switching off our work laptop in order to allow our minds some time to relax? What behaviours have been formed as unhelpful coping strategies and do we fall into negative thought patterns about ourselves? Being kind to ourselves is key to being able to show kindness to others, and there are steps we can take to show ourselves the kindness that we deserve.
Being kind to others
When we give to others, endorphins are released in our brain boosting happiness. During the last few months, we have witnessed an overwhelming example of kindness within our communities at a time of financial worry, sadness, trauma and anxiety for many. Kindness has been shown by posters in peoples’ windows, through the efforts of an army of volunteers, shopping bills being paid for unexpectedly, donations to food banks and hospitals, phone calls to those who are lonely and isolated, the list goes on. Being able to ‘give’ is a key element to increasing happiness. There are so many ways to give our time, skills and money to great causes but we need to make sure that we are always remaining kind to ourselves; you can’t pour from an empty cup.
It goes without saying that if we are worried about ourselves or our loved one’s physical health, we would dial 112 or 999 and we would expect those around us to show care and compassion. If we are worried about our mental health or the mental health of those around us, we should seek out support in just the same way. The NHS have put together a list of trusted helplines for problems including depression, anxiety, debt, domestic abuse, suicide, gambling and drug and alcohol abuse and many more. These helplines are there to offer non-judgemental information, advice and a listening ear. Many charities such as the Samaritans also offer confidential support via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah is a Mental Health First Aid England Accredited Trainer. She trains companies and organisations across England in Mental Health Awareness and Mental Health First Aid courses. Hannah is also employed by a large NHS trust to train their employees in Mental Health First Aid so they can support each other to maintain mental wellbeing. You can find more about her work or get in touch at www.everykind.co.uk