Mental health – everyone’s got it. As much as we do specific things (eat fruit and vegetables, go to the gym) to maintain our physical health, it’s important to do regular work to retain our mental health. One of the main predictors for developing future mental illness is poor resilience. Resilience here means your ability to bounce back from distressing events (the death of a relative, losing your job) to a normal mood state. Obviously negative feelings following an upsetting event are normal. Nobody is happy all the time, and making that your goal sets up an impossibility. It is important that you should be returning to a peaceful equilibrium which is not typically sad, anxious or angry, following the event.
To improve your mental health, regular physical activity and mental activity (meditation, prayer, crafts, – things that make you feel peaceful) are essential. People are also more likely to recover faster from mental illness if they have a wide, supportive network of friends on whom they can depend.
Mental illness is often mis-portrayed, as society incorrectly conceives depression as being sad all the time. Knowing that 350 million people who have depression globally means nothing really. How can anyone really define it after all? For me it means my brain feels ‘slow’, I cannot stop replaying and ruminating my mistakes, my motivation to do things drops, and if I’m not being productive I feel very guilty. Feeling sad doesn’t really describe my main set of depression-related experiences, any more than having an anxiety disorder can be described as feeling ‘on edge’ – I never now come off that edge. If I leave my bed without my phone in my hand I face dizzying panic attack in which I feel like my lungs do not take in air.
You get the picture. Mental illnesses are not always as they’re commonly described, but nor are my descriptions accurate for anyone else. Medication can be helpful for some, harmful for others and appropriate therapy should also be offered, but numbers and waiting lists make this impractical.
Mental Health Awareness Week should be about several things: raising awareness about how to maintain good mental health, raising awareness about what experiences of mental illness are ‘really like’, and raising awareness about what support is available for mentally ill students. I hope it succeeds in all of those objectives!