Mental health awareness week was 8th - 14th May this year, and whilst it is great to see an acknowledgement of this increasingly prevalent health issue, the awareness needs to continue beyond an allocated week, and become integrated into our daily lives.
In the UK alone it is said to affect a third of the population and is now the leading cause of work absence, resulting in 70 million days per year collectively. This is a huge health topic and something I will keep returning to, one blog post is simply not enough!
As a society we focus too much on physical health, we talk about our aches and pains, and can get tangible results from the doctors - our bodies can be reduced to isolated parts with blood tests, x-rays and scans; and even though our brains can be included in this, our minds, and our mental health are not.
Mental and emotional wellbeing are just as important, but can often be overlooked in a doctors office, and not generally discussed outside of it either. Mental health becomes a subjective interpretation, and how well we interpret that can determine how 'well' we actually are.
The mind is inextricably linked to the body, if mental health issues are ignored, they can go onto affect physical health too. Conditions that can manifest due to prolonged stress for example can include high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease, sleep deprivation, impaired immunity, digestive issues....the list goes on - making the old adage of 'it's all in your head' seem somewhat flippant, and actually not true.
Mental health issues can be a bewildering and isolating experience, and because that experience is subjective, because it is felt so personally - it can leave us in a state of vulnerability, which can lead on to associated feelings of shame, and to alot of people this may mean they don't talk about it, isolating the issue further.
For those of you who have experienced mental illness, you may come to recognise future symptoms and triggers, and perhaps be better equipped, or feel less fearful due to its familiarity. This is not to discount how overwhelming it can still be, but to those who are maybe experiencing it for the first time - the range of symptoms can feel confusing, where you feel like you are literally going mad or out of control.
As a society - the stigma of mental health has to change, and it needs to be talked about. Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability on TED, that it is something to be embraced, not blocked out. Her talk has so far had over 29 million views, highlighting that this is something that resonates collectively on an international level.
Know you are not alone - keep clear communication, seek help and support, keep talking, and hopefully in time, mental health will be taken more seriously, more services will be funded, and it will get the attention it deserves.
Traditional Herbs, or modern medicine?
* Always seek the advice of a medical herbalist or naturopath if you feel you are not well mentally or emotionally and want to try herbal medicine, particularly if you are already taking prescription medication, not all herbal medicine is safe *
There are many herbs that can be beneficial in times of stress, or for when mental health issues arise. However, they are not to be relied upon solely, nor can they negate other unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Modern medicine has its place too - anti-depressants are widely accepted now as a main form of treatment for depression, and although they can at times be overly prescribed, they can be effective and beneficial to some people, to help get them back on track. Their main action is to increase the amount of serotonin - a neurotransmiter which contributes to our overal feelings of wellbeing and happiness, and is thought to be responsible for maintaining mood balance.
St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is commonly considered to be the herbal equivalent to anti-depressants, however, whilst it has also been seen to boost serotonin, it extends to other neurotransmitters including dopamine, noradrenaline and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) making its actions that of a much broader spectrum.
But I am not advocating a 'green medicine' approach - simply swapping to it, and using it instead of modern medication - a quick fix view that we as modern society have prescribed to is not the way forward; neither approach deals with what may be causing depression or anxiety, they just may help to improve mood.
St. John's wort is also well known to interact with a variety of medication, as always, seek advice from a health professional and tread with caution.
If you decide to see a naturopath/medical herbalist - they are most likely to pull together all aspects of your health, look at your diet and the role food plays, sleep patterns, excercise, nutritional deficiencies, overall gut health, and overall lifestyle choices. this may lead you down a path that at first seems unrelated, you may not get a simple prescription of St. John's wort, but a combination of herbs that may have the following medicinal actions:
Adaptogens: These are herbs that can increase the body's resistance to physical, environmental, emotional or biological stressors to maintain balance to bodily functions.
Anxiolytics: Simply herbs that help to alleviate anxiety.
Nervine tonics: Herbs that improve the function of the nervous system.
Thymoleptics: Herbs that improve mood
Nutritives: Herbs that gradually restore and boost bodily functions.
These, along with St. John's wort will be explored in further blog posts...
Other things to try...
www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications - A great resource providing a clear overview, help and advice, and downloadable information sheets.
www.bipolaruk.org - A straight forward website that has online support, forums, and a platform that allows sufferers to submit art and poetry that reflects how they feel. The downloadable mood scale and diary are useful practical tools.
www.mind.org.uk - A mental health charity that provides services all over the country, and has an abundance of information and publications.
www.rethink.org/home - A practical, resourceful website, outlining services and support networks nationwide.
https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome - From australia, this is an online CBT programme, which may appeal to those of you who may not feel able to talk to anyone straight away. It assessess and tracks progress through a series of questionaires to help you detect certain thinking patterns, and offers tools to try and overcome them.
Emma is passionate about promoting good health, and likes to keep things simple. She enjoys yoga, meditation & being outdoors, yet likes to indulge in coffee, wine & cake - Everything in moderation!