Mental Health Awareness Week 2022
The Mental Health Foundation has set the theme of, organised, and ran Mental Health Awareness Week for the past 22 years, with it becoming one of the most widely acknowledged awareness weeks. This year it will be held from 9th – 15th May, and the theme is loneliness. An appropriate theme considering the past couple of years has led to people experiencing increased levels of loneliness due to isolation and barriers to human connection, which is somewhat ironic considering our use of the internet and social media to connect with people across the globe. Loneliness can be a contributing factor as well as a result of poor mental health which can lead to a vicious cycle.
Loneliness can impact you in many ways. As mentioned above, loneliness can have a direct negative impact on your mental health by increasing feelings of depression and worsening existing problems. As well as your mental health, loneliness can impact your physical health. Studies show that people who feel lonely have less effective immune systems, making them more susceptible to health issues, as well as poorer physical health and wellbeing in general. Loneliness and social isolation are risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke as well as shorter life expectancy. Furthermore, the area of the brain that deals with social exclusion also deals with physical pain, meaning that feeling extreme loneliness can cause physical pain.
How to deal with loneliness
Adopt a pet / spend time around animals
Spending time with animals, particularly cats and dogs, has huge benefits for your wellbeing. They can offer you a sense of companionship that is sometimes different or better to what you get with other people. Similarly, they offer opportunities to meet new people, walking your dog often means you have small interactions with other dog walkers or people who want to pet your dog. Animals also offer unconditional love, and are dependent on you, giving you a sense of purpose, which can help fend off loneliness.
Join a club
Having a hobby or activity that allows you to meet like-minded people can be beneficial to your overall wellbeing. Even if you don’t intend to meet new people and only go for your own enjoyment, being surrounded by people who share an interest with you can help you. If you’re feeling anxious at first, you can ask to just watch rather than join in, to get an idea of what goes on. Joining a club, or even volunteering somewhere, can give you a sense of belonging and community and give you something to look forward to. This also could include online groups or communities, which can be preferable for some people. Find something that is at your comfort level that you can manage.
Build on existing relationships
Feelings of loneliness can still occur when you’re surrounded by people. Opening up to the people in your life about how you feel and what you think could help ease feelings of loneliness in your relationship with them can help others understand and help you. Often, deepening connections can help relieve some feelings of loneliness as surface level connections typically don’t contribute much. Make plans more often, chat on the phone or try to keep in touch on a regular basis or more frequently, this can all help to build existing relationships to become stronger and therefore more supportive.
Look after your mental health
With loneliness and mental health being so closely linked, working on your mental health can help reduce feelings of loneliness or provide you with tools and skills to help you cope with and work through feeling lonely. Feeling better in and about yourself can also help combat some loneliness and taking the time to take care of yourself, eat and sleep well, do things you enjoy and be active can all help. If you feel you need further support, then it’s okay to ask for it. Organisations, online communities, therapy or your GP are all available and can offer you additional help and support.
Raising mental health awareness
Although this year’s designated theme is loneliness, mental health awareness week is a good opportunity to educate people and reduce stigma. There are certain disorders, illnesses and symptoms that still have a lot of stigma and misinformation surrounding them and although we have made progress, there is still a long way to go.
Below are some mental illnesses and symptoms, by no means an exhaustive list, that need a wider discourse and a better understanding of.
There is a lot of misinformation about size when it comes to eating disorders as well as lack of understanding and knowledge of less common eating disorders such as ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) and BED (Binge Eating Disorder).
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) develops after experiencing trauma. It can cause people to experience panic attacks and flashbacks and react to triggers that seem ordinary to other people. C-PSTD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can have a huge impact on a person and the way they behave and interact with others.
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder with symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, disorganised speech and thinking, and catatonia. With schizophrenia representation in the media often being dramatized and exaggerated, there is understandably a lot of stigma and misunderstanding. People who have schizophrenia are often portrayed as dangerous and violent whereas in reality, the risk of someone with schizophrenia being violent is very small.
There are 10 personality disorders which are grouped into 3 categories: suspicious, emotional and impulsive, and anxious. Personality disorders, especially ones that fit into the emotional and impulsive category are very stigmatised, even the term ‘personality disorder’ can cause a lot of stigma and judgement.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
What used to be known as ‘multiple personality disorder’ or ‘split personalities’, DID occurs as a result of extreme childhood trauma and is a way for the mind to protect itself and deal with the trauma. It is still very much stigmatised and can be treated as a source of entertainment.
Most people associate OCD with cleanliness and organisation however it’s a lot more complex, it has several different subsets and can be extremely distressing.
This is a condition in which symptoms of both psychotic and mood disorders are present simultaneously during episodes or within a short period of time.
It’s a symptom of mental illness and trauma that is often unspoken about and misunderstood. It can affect short term and long term memory and can cause confidence and self esteem issues as well as a loss of identity.
This can be very difficult to understand and can be misinterpreted as someone being rude or absent-minded.
Poor personal hygiene
Severe mental illness can cause people to stop looking after themselves which results in poor personal hygiene. It can lead to judgement from other people as well as increased internal judgement and pressure, causing them to feel worse.
Suicidal thoughts and feelings
The topic of suicide is one that is often difficult to approach and many people don’t know how to or don’t feel comfortable talking about it.
Approaching topics and conversations around mental health can be difficult but it is important to keep educating ourselves and the people around us in order to reduce stigma.