This week’s Mental Health Awareness Week Campaign has ‘anxiety’ as its hugely powerful theme. It’s something we can all resonate with in one way or another and, in this blog for IFA Magazine, RedArc’s Christine Husbands (pictured) reflects on some practical ways you can support not only your own mental health but also that of those around you.
We are well aware that mental health problems are commonplace in the UK. Mind tells us that one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, and for some groups the propensity is even higher.
The term Mental Health is a collective term covering an extremely wide range of conditions and severities including anxiety, depression and disorders such as post-traumatic stress (PTSD), psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar.
We all have mental health, just as we have physical health; at any point in time, we can have good mental health, poor mental health or some form of diagnosed mental illness.
Whilst raising the profile and understanding of mental illness, there is a danger that we “over-medicalise” normal human emotions.
Life is, at times, sad and stressful and we may experience anxiety or low mood. It is important to recognise that these feelings are a normal human reaction to difficult events. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are mentally ill, however if we don’t deal with these negative feelings, they can persist and lead to mental ill health.
Therefore it is important that mental health support includes assistance to help people recognise and normalise these reactions to challenging life events, and develop healthy coping mechanisms and resilience to get through difficult times.
Obviously should these feelings be prolonged or overwhelming, then medical support is required. Unfortunately waiting lists for talking therapies on the NHS are often very long, however, support services offered by employers or via Insurance policies can give quick access to professional support and structured therapies.
Power of Self
Self-awareness and self-help are key to maintaining good mental health. The ability to recognise difficult feelings such as anger, anxiety and sadness, and act on them can avoid symptoms escalating and progressing to mental and potentially also physical ill health.
Organisations such as Mind and the Mental Health Foundation have many suggestions to help people cope with difficult situations and feelings. These include relaxation techniques, exercise, being outdoors, journaling and diary-keeping, connecting with others, nutrition and taking steps to deal with the root cause, such as money worries.
Obviously, these suggestions will not work for everyone and medical input can be required.
Individuals who have access to added-value benefits, either via their individual or employee-sponsored insurance or employee benefits mean that they are better able to access a range of mental health support. Whilst primary care remains the responsibility of the NHS – and complex mental illness is likely to require some NHS therapies and/or medication – support services can address less complex needs, provide support alongside NHS services and during the wait until they are available.
Good quality services comprise a comprehensive range of support, including help with self-awareness and self-management, enabling individuals with their day-to-day mental health; and when a more serious concern is flagged, navigate them to more comprehensive support.
It is very important that there are no gaps between the different elements of care provided, and ideally is managed by the same health professional over the long-term, ensuring that each individual gets the help they need and no-one falls between the cracks.
Awareness of mental health needs to include a recognition of good mental health and how nurture it, and that it can be unhelpful to over-medicalise normal human reactions to difficult events.
However, clinical support needs to be available quickly and easily when self-help has been tried and is unsuccessful, or when professional help is needed.
This is undoubtedly a challenge but something that is available via an increasing number of insurers and employers, and something that the industry as a whole continually enhances.
At RedArc, Christine Husbands is commercial director