This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, lead by the Mental Health Foundation. For a long time, mental health was thought of as something people either had (when they were sad or depressed) or didn’t have, whereas now there is much more understanding that – like physical health – it’s something that we all have, the state of it fluctuates and we all need to do things to maintain it.
The truth is we will all suffer from mental health challenges at some stage of our lives and we probably all know people who are experiencing these right now. The stats make this clear. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health difficulty each year. 1 in 5 people have suicidal thoughts and 1 in 15 people will attempt suicide.
While it’s great that various celebrities have helped to raise awareness of mental health they can talk about it as something they used to have a problem with and don’t anymore, whereas most people who know about people’s struggles with mental health know it can be an ongoing process to maintain it.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness and I think that is an excellent choice. Much with mental health difficulties, we can all get lonely, but being persistently lonely can have a number of negative affects on a person’s life.
The Campaign to End Loneliness collates facts on loneliness including the fact it is likely to increase your risk of a series of health conditions, from high blood pressure, to dementia, to heart disease and it can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It can be particularly acute for older people: half a million people go without speaking to anyone for at least 5 or 6 days a week.
It’s why I’m so pleased to be a volunteer for the Didcot Good Neighbour Scheme (www.dgns.org.uk, though there are similar schemes elsewhere, I just live in Didcot), which matches volunteers to elderly, vulnerable and isolated people. Through DGNS I’ve been matched with a brilliant 86-year old called Merv, who lost his wife in 2014 and has been on his own since. Every week I go and visit him and, although the purpose is to help him, it’s honestly one of the highlights of my week (even though he’s a Chelsea fan!).
He never fails to make me laugh and he has great stories to tell so it cheers me up while hopefully helping him. It doesn’t take much time from my week so if you can do something too, I’d really recommend it – you’ll probably get as much of a boost to your mental health as they do.