Britain’s Mental Health Awareness Week (#MHAW17) begs the question – are you, and are we, surviving or thriving?

A month ago, I wrote this article to mark World Health Day 2017, explaining why a global focus on the issue of depression was making me happy. In case you missed it — April 7th marked a global commitment from the World Health Organisation to proactively create a mentally healthier planet. Surely, that’s reason for us all to be smiling?

I’m happy to share that the goodness doesn’t stop there. This week it’s Mental Health Awareness Week (#MHAW17) in the UK. Every year between May 8th — 14th, thousands of people across the UK come together to raise awareness about matters of the mind, and I’m delighted to see this year’s theme is totally on point: “Surviving, or thriving?”.

Which one describes you?

What about the people around you?

What’s the difference?

Why is it important?

There’s a world of difference between simply surviving and totally thriving so asking yourself these questions can be insightful and even life changing. With this in mind, the Mental Health Foundation conducted a national survey on thriving in order to gain insights and guide action. Findings were released today in their report: Surviving to Thriving: The State of The UK’s Mental Health” and include many important insights into the current state of the British psyche. Society-wide, mental health is declining, only a minority are thriving and collectively, there’s still a long way to go before it gets better.

To start with, let’s face a few facts …

Mind Matters

Depression and anxiety are common mental disorders with 7.8% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis in the UK. Depression is a common mental health issue that causes people to experience low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of low self-worth or guilt, poor disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, reduced energy and poor concentration. Just as depression isn’t simply ‘feeling sad’, anxiety goes beyond feeling stressed or worried. It’s an experience of physical and emotional fear that can arise with the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future, something happening in the present, or without any particular trigger at all. This can make it a challenge to cope with daily life.

One in six adults in Britain is living with a mental disorder and this figure is continually rising. The Surviving or Thriving report released today states that almost two-thirds of people report having experienced a mental health problem at some point in their lives. This jumps up to 70% of women, young adults aged 18–34 and people who live alone. The poorer and more disadvantaged people in British society are disproportionately affected by mental health issues and their adverse consequences. In England, women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as their male counterparts and young women are a staggering three times as likely (26%) to experience a common mental health problem as young men (9%). Whether this significant gender gap is due to higher actual number of episodes, or the fact that females are more likely to report the issue and men are far less likely to seek help — the facts and figures are collectively cause for concern.

Mental illness can affect your relationships, your career and your physical health. Mental health issues are linked to heart disease, respiratory disease and other chronic conditions, as well as substance abuse and suicide. Mental illness can also decrease your life expectancy.

Most people in the UK are reporting they’ve experienced feeling mentally unwell at some point in their lives. This indicates one of the greatest challenges moving forwards is to determine the necessary steps to cultivate the mental health of the population. What will it take to for a significant rise in thriving amongst individuals, across communities and throughout society?

Where is my mind?

Mental Health Awareness Week (#MHAW17) has approached this year’s initiative from a different perspective. Instead of asking why so many people in Britain are living with mental illness, they have switched the question to ask instead — why not enough people are experiencing good mental health. I created The Wellbeing Collective in 2014 based on this very principle. Our philosophy focuses on exploring new ways to wellbeing and creating the conditions for more people to thrive.

Everyone has mental health, just like physical health, and it’s up to each of us to nurture our minds as the greatest asset we possess. There’s much more to your mental health than not having a mental illness. While mental illness is a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behaviour or thinking, mental health is, according to the World Health Organisation “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

In order to thrive, it is vital to make this distinction clear. Mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing. It’s positive. It’s proactive. The more psychological wellbeing you experience, the greater your ability to thrive. More thriving means less risk of experiencing a mental illness.

Surviving or thriving?

A sure sign you’re surviving is when you’re simply existing, disconnected, apathetic, lacking interest, energy or enthusiasm. You’re scared of change, you lack resilience and you’re more reactive than proactive. In contrast, when thriving you feel engaged, deeply connected, happy, energised. You strive to reach your potential and live your purpose, you’re in control of your choices and actions and possess the skills to accept, adapt and bounce back.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”.

Maya Angelou

So are you, and are we, surviving, or thriving? As I’ve mentioned, the answer can be revealing and life changing for individuals as well as societies. This point of reflection brings awareness to your current experience and prompts you to make a choice about whether it needs to change in future, or not.

The choice is there to be made. However, there are some conditions in which thriving is far more challenging. As today’s Mental Health Foundation report discusses, societal factors have a part to play and can significantly impact upon the wellbeing of a nation. There are segments of society where individuals and communities are at greater risk of experiencing mental ill health and face inequalities when it comes to pursuing mental health. Herein lies the challenge of working together to ensure thriving is a choice we can all make — whether it’s individually or collectively.

“As a nation we face a broader challenge than providing mental health support for the 1 in 6 with a diagnosable mental health problem. We also need to establish practical information and support that any of us can access at the times in our lives when our mental health is under intense pressure and to help more of us spend most of our lives feeling that we are not just surviving but thriving”.

Surviving to thriving: The State of The UK’s Mental Health. 
Mental Health Foundation, 2017.

Choosing to thrive

If you are ready to take the matter of thriving into your own hands, here are some simple, practical steps to getting started:

1. Work on your relationships

Relationships are the number one determinant of a flourishing mind. The quality (not the quantity) of your relationships are integral to your wellbeing so spend quality time nurturing your connections, reach out regularly and support others (and turn to others for support too), show kindness and genuine appreciation to others in your life. Talk to those around you about how you’re feeling and let the people closest to you know it’s ok to do the same.

2. Slow down, rest up

Take time to go slower and create short pauses in your day to give yourself a break. It’s important for good mind health to regularly disconnect from being constantly ‘on’ and instead, tune in to yourself, take a few deep breaths or appreciate your surroundings. The best rest you can give yourself is a good night’s sleep — it’s central to your brain and body functioning optimally and is a great way to achieve a positive state of mind. Create a slow wind-down routine before bed to help you switch off and transition to rest-mode.

3. Stress less

Work on your wellbeing by regularly practicing strategies to help you stress less. Whether that’s breathing, mindfulness, physical exercise, relaxation techniques, journaling, connecting to nature or a digital detox, empower yourself with effective tools to help you reduce the feeling of overwhelm. Your mind and body will thank you for it.

4. Play to your strengths

Enjoy using your strengths and play with your passions regularly. Craft your work or free-time to include more of the things you’re good at and use your unique skillset and talents as a pathway to reaching your potential. Think about the things you value deeply, pursue as a hobby or are naturally skilled at. What do you have fun doing or enjoy most? Consider the ways you can use these strengths more regularly in your life, and to support others around you too.

5. Move

A regular routine of physical activity will support you to feel at your best from the inside out. As well as keeping your body healthy and functioning well, exercise is great for the brain and can help you to sleep better too. Look for ways to move your body that feel good for you, it could be walking, dancing, yoga, running, gardening or a class at the gym.

Please share this article with family, friends and colleagues during Mental Health Awareness Week 2017.

#MHAW17 #thewellco #annikarose #positivepsychology #mentalhealth #wellbeing #happiness #health

Further Resources:

The Mental Health Foundation report “Surviving or Thriving: The State of the UK’s mental health: download a copy here

TALK ABOUT IT: Heads Together is an inspiring campaign coordinated by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Last month, Heads Together was the Charity of the Year for the 2017 London Marathon. This partnership got the country talking about mind matters and working together to change the conversation on mental health by stamping out the stigma. To find out more about the initiative, click here.

LEARN ABOUT IT: BBC is running a host of programs throughout 2017 focussed on mental health on TV, radio and online. Click here for more.

BE PROACTIVE: Mental Health Foundation: For FREE tips on good mental health, text TIPS from a UK Mobile to 70300 (see website for conditions).

SEEK SUPPORT: Mind: For information, ongoing services and emergency support, click here.

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