Jenny Light, a trained mental health nurse and one of UCL's Social and Wellbeing Volunteers, reflects on this year's Mental Health Awareness Week theme - kindness.
I trained in mental health nursing at Reading and began working as community mental health nurse.
Later I worked in a secondary and a primary school, latterly in a unit for children with speech and language difficulties.
Since leaving, I completed a foundation course in art, and have a lot of holidays (until recently!).
I volunteer with Dogs Trust (“Dog School”), do a lot of art and crafts, and sing (and perform) in a community choir. I also review research proposals for the National Institute for Health Research.
Since 2001, the Mental Health Foundation has marked Mental Health Awareness Week in order to raise awareness of the issues by bringing mental health into the media and public consciousness more prominently.
The hope is that this will reduce the stigma still attached to mental health issues, and to improve everybody’s mental health by enabling people to be more open to ways of improving it and to seek help if needed.
This year the theme is “Kindness”, whether giving or receiving, and both have been proved to benefit our mental health.
At the moment, of course, COVID-19 is at the forefront of many of our concerns, but in addition to impacting on all parts of our lives, including our mental health, it has also provided us with opportunities to demonstrate kindness to others, even if it is simply the kindness (to society) of staying at home so that we don’t increase the risk of infection.
Many other instances of acts of kindness have been in the media: for example, helping to do shopping for people who are vulnerable, making scrubs for NHS staff (and often including personal notes of thanks for the work that they are doing), making pairs of hearts for people in hospital and their relatives or partners who cannot visit them, and generally looking out for others more than we usually do.
Suggestions for ways of boosting our mental health during this crisis, including helping others, can be found on various websites, including:
- Mental Health Foundation: Look after your mental health and wellbeing when staying at home - (a quite extensive website which includes videos of useful techniques and guidance on how to help those with existing mental health issues)
- NHS: Mental wellbeing while staying at home
- Nursing Standard: How the COVID-19 pandemic complicates existing mental health conditions
Most recommendations include:
- Structuring the day – Keep to usual times for waking and sleeping, eating, working, schooling (if you have children), recreation etc.
- Limiting exposure to 'news' – Avoid making yourself more anxious by keeping to one or two reliable sources of information only, once a day at most.
- Keep in contact with others – by remote means (telephone, Skype, video-conferencing).
- Exercise – Keep physically and mentally healthy by exercising, particularly outside, if you can do this safely, as daylight helps to regulate your hormone levels. This will also help you to sleep.
- Eat as healthily as you can – We might not be able to get all the foods we normally eat, but it helps to look at this situation as an opportunity – try foods or ways of cooking that are new – you might like it!
- Be kind to yourself – Take time to reflect, learn to meditate, learn something new, or get better at something. Try something creative – keep a journal, draw, take photos, join in with your children’s imaginative play. Remember that we are all in an unusual situation and are just making the best of it – nobody has to be perfect
- Be kind to others – If you have the opportunity, even if it only your pet – it will make you feel good.
If you have a pre-existing mental health condition, the websites listed above also have advice on how to get help if you need it. There has been an increase in people being brought into hospital by ambulance and by police, for either mental or physical problems, but it is better to seek help before things get to this point.
Services at present are obviously limited, but mental health is as important as physical health, and we have been encouraged to seek NHS help when we need it, despite the coronavirus.
Community mental health services are still carrying on, but using telephone and the internet, if face-to-face contact is not absolutely necessary.
So – I hope everyone will try to be kind to themselves, not just for this week, but as often as possible, and that we can then pass that kindness on to others.
If you are interested in becoming a digital volunteer, please explore our opportunities or complete our Expression of Interest form, outlining your key skills, interests and availability. We'll then get back to you to help find a suitable role.