This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and many of us will be thinking about our own mental health as well as those around us. Your mental health is important. Some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are common. If you have such an illness, it’s important to get the right treatment. Mental health wellbeing is a term that we will hear frequently, but what actually does it mean? A useful description is ‘feeling good and functioning well’. Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health at the University of Warwick, and a wellbeing expert, provides a more expansive description of mental wellbeing.
It’s useful to start with the idea that overall wellbeing involves both the mind and the body. And we know that physical and mental wellbeing are closely related. Of course, feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. But it is far from the whole. There is a deeper kind of wellbeing, which is about living in a way that is good for you and good for others around you. Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental well-being. Self-esteem and self-confidence contributes to a feeling that you can do the things you want to do. And so are good relationships, which bring joy to you and those around you. Of course, good mental well-being does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult. But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual.”
This sounds like something that we would all want, but how do we achieve it? Fortunately, it is something that we can actively do for ourselves to get there. There is now a large body of research evidence that indicates that we can take 5 steps that will contribute to mental wellbeing.
- Connect with the people around you: Your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
- Be active – you don’t have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Play Pokémon Go! Find the activity that you enjoy, and make it a part of your life.
- Keep learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike?
- Give to others. Even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you, or kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
- Take notice, be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness,” and it can positively change the way you feel about life, and how you approach challenges.
Volunteering is a way of taking most of the steps above. Being a volunteer in your community allows you to connect to those around you. It keeps you active, you learn new skills, it gives you a sense of contributing and having a purpose, and you are more aware of what is going on around you. This explains why those who are actively volunteering have a better mental health status. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2016, entitled Association of volunteering with mental well-being: A life course analysis of a national population-based longitudinal study in the UK. This study not only found a correlation between volunteering and higher mental health status, but that this increased for older volunteers.
If you would like to get involved in volunteering, just click on login (also, top right hand corner of this page) and feel the rewards.