It’s okay not to be okay

From the Headmaster's Desk, October 14, 2019

Last Thursday was World Mental Health Day, and this morning I wanted to reflect on mental health a bit further. First of all, I’m grateful to Mr. Morton and a Sixth Form pupil for sharing their own stories on Thursday, which were both compelling and powerful. I’m also grateful to Dr. Williams for the excellent email that he sent to all of us.

In his email, Dr Williams reminded us that it is important to remember that all of us will go through phases of better or worse mental health in our lives, just as with physical health. It is so important that we support others who are struggling, and when we find things difficult, that we understand who and how to ask for help. At Blue Coat, whether we are pupils or staff, there are many people who are willing to listen and to help – tutors, teachers, friends or co-workers.

Mental health and wellbeing exists along a continuum, in the same way as physical health. At the top end you have the equivalent of Olympic athletes in mental health, who seem invincible, and capable of taking every hurdle in their stride. At the bottom end we have people who are extremely unwell, the equivalent of those hospitalised for poor physical health. And indeed many people struggling with mental health issues do end up in hospital.

The most common mental health issues in the past year, according to a clinic in London, are as follows:

 

This highlights that over 70% of issues are related to four areas:  Anxiety, depression, anger or relationships.

To a certain degree, all of us feel anxious or angry at different times.  But these are some of the key questions:

  1. Is this issue affecting my daily functioning, e.g. my ability to work, relate to others and look after myself?
  2. Is this issue have a negative effect on others as well as me?

If the answer to one or both of these questions is yes, then it is probably a good idea to ask for help.

For most of us, hopefully, we are in a good place most of the time. Modern discussions of mental health often focus on the basic ingredients of good emotional health, which are relatively simple. It’s not a surprise that simple things like diet, exercise, sleep, and time with friends and family all help.

Here are some general pieces of advice that you might consider, to give your mental health a boost today and every day:

  • Get into a good pattern of regular sleep, getting enough sleep each night
  • Spend time outside, get exercise, fresh air, change your scene
  • Do something each day purely for fun – read a book, watch a funny TV show, play a game
  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Try practising mindfulness – simple breathing and concentration exercises that you can learn from many books, websites, or apps
  • Gratitude – set aside some time each day to recall the things you are thankful for – researching shows that a daily list helps you to focus on the positives in your life, and makes you feel more positive.

 

These are a great start, and of course there are so many other things that we can do to take care of ourselves.

One of the things that I’m most happy about is simply the fact that we now live in a society where we talk about mental health, in the same way we talk about physical health. As the Samaritans sign says in Reading Station, ‘It’s okay to be not okay.’

It is my hope that we will continue to nurture a community at Blue Coat where we support one another when we do have a bad day – or week or month. And we also actively seek to avoid problems by taking the best care of ourselves now.

I hope that you all have a great week, and if you don’t feel at your best, perhaps some of this advice will help.

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