It’s mental health awareness week – or have I just missed it?
How I hate these “awareness” days/weeks/months. I know that we need to think about people and the issues that they face but these weeks just irritate me – “if I think about it this week then can I forget about it for the rest of the year…………….?” International women’s day? – I know! – I know! – and I’m partly so irritated by them because they make me cross and make me look at uncomfortable issues like unfairness and discrimination ……… But really what is it this week? One legged, blind teddy bear week? I know I will just have offended someone – and I don’t mean to – some of my best friends are blind teddy bears – but really………..?
Mental health is just too important to take out and look at for a week and then put away. If one in four of us will have mental health issues as some point in our lives it needs to part of the way that we think about ourselves and our lifestyles EVERY week.
So back to running and mental health – the London marathon is over and our 10 volunteers from BBC 1’s “Mind over Marathon” have finished their training…………….. and those that could, ran the gruelling 26.2 miles. Watch the Programme here. I watched the second part of this programme with rapt attention – alternating between total admiration and tears. Seven of the 10 finished the race – but all ten were at the finishing line. Injury meant the 3 of the participants did not start the race – but they remained involved and supported the runners through to the end. Obviously, I think that running is good for our mental health – but I was also struck by the camaraderie between those who took part and how connected the people concerned felt to each other. Jake and Poppy ran the whole distance together – whilst others – running at their own pace were all held in mind and greeted over the line at the end. Everyone waited the 7 and a half hours it took one of the ten to finish (hats off to her!). Those who couldn’t run seemed to be just as important and as included – as those who did. I will come back to this!
By the end of the programme I was seriously impressed by all who took part – obviously the 10 runners – but the coaches – the presenters and even the Royals – who approached the topic with a down to earth “there but for the grace of god go I” attitude that has got to impact on the issue of stigma in mental health. I was rather saddened to hear the Queen believes that Harry, Will and Kate should be more involved in traditional Royal duties – rather than pursuing their own projects such as Heads Together. Not a massive Royalist myself – these youngsters have really won me round with their apparent honesty and passion.
My only quibble with the programme was it’s emphasis on illness (rather than health and the human condition) as I fear that this disempowers people who may feel that the only way of overcoming their difficulties is through “treatment”, doctors and “medical intervention”. Far be it from me to put anyone off seeking help and support – and from a professional if necessary – but there is so much more that everyone can do to build resilience and help when things seem overwhelming.
I don’t want to lecture – or pretend that everything can be solved by a blog post – clearly it can’t! There is lots of good advice out there on the internet and Mind’s Five Ways to Wellbeing is as good as any – Five Ways to Wellbeing
All I want to do is get people thinking a bit – and maybe making tiny changes so I am going to limit myself to just two…………………
The first one is Talk – about anything – your life, your family, your pets, your hobbies, running (of course). But most of all about what has happened to you and about your feelings. Do it again, and again and again…………. And if people get bored with you – talk to someone else. Your family, your friends, your cats and your teddy bear…………….. When my garage burned down earlier this year I told everyone about it – at length – again and again and again. 13.1 x 12 and all that!
I gained new insights into what it is to be traumatised and the length of time it takes to recover (even if you look okay on the surface) – but I have absolutely no doubt that it was the talking and the connection to other people that helped. And actually people rarely get bored – most were willing to listen – and almost all offered help – both practical and emotional. So talk my friends, talk! Stay connected to other people and ask for help. Honestly – most people are not only willing to help but like to do so………………………..
And the second? No prizes here…………… get active – run, walk, cycle, turn cartwheels, try yoga – do them all and – if possible – talk at the same time. Run with a buddy, or a group. The brilliant thing about running is that if you are running too hard to talk you are probably running too hard – especially when you are starting out – so you can cover both of my points in one go. If you don’t have anyone to run with – or can’t find a group – try the Run Together website. Many groups and running clubs will have a mental health ambassador – a volunteer who is committed to helping people start running, get back into running or to keep running – especially if they are experiencing mental health difficulties (that’s me if you are in Heathfield). Run Together – find a group
And what next for me? Well I have been inspired by Mind Over Marathon – my name is in the ballot for next year………………………………….