We all have mental health – and yet stigma and discrimination associated with mental ill health are widespread and damaging.
60% of people with a mental health disorder do not seek help from a health professional. “World Health Organisation 2019”
9 out of 10 people with a mental health problem have experienced stigma and discrimination. “Time to Change”
The majority of people with a mental health problem wait over a year to tell close friends and family. “Time to Change”
What are our misconceptions and assumptions and do we recognise them as such? What can we do to better understand mental health for ourselves and others and reduce the stigma against mental illness? And why should we try?
Lots of questions. Let’s explore some possible answers…
We believe that when we consider wellbeing, we are considering our whole-self wellbeing; our physical and mental health. There is loads of research confirming there is a real connection between the two – our physical health can impact our mental health and vice versa.
This module will explore your understanding of physical and mental health and what this means for you so you can start deliberately looking at choices to improve your whole-self health and wellbeing.
You may be wondering what on earth we are talking about here, and answering this question is a good place to start!
What is it?
Most of us will be aware of a physical first aid kit and will use this when we need it, without really thinking. We might cut ourselves and reach for a plaster or if we have a headache we take some painkillers.
What do we do if we are feeling sad or our mood is lower than is usual?
It is typical for us to accept this as normal and something we “just have to deal with”, as reaching for a plaster doesn’t quite work… unless we have a metaphorical plaster to hand!
You can think of a Mental Health First Aid Kit as a resource you can use to positively impact your mental health when you need it. And just as we sometimes need a bit of help to look after our physical body, we sometimes need a bit of help to look after our mental wellbeing too. But this is often undervalued or forgotten about completely.
Why do we need a Mental Health First Aid Kit?
The aim of a Mental Health First Aid Kit is to provide a resource that can be used to remind you of when you were feeling happy, confident, relaxed, more positive. In fact, this is personal you can select items and reminders that mean something to you, to link back to positive memories and experiences, whatever they are. Which also means you can continue to add to your first aid kit as you live and experience new things.
Your first aid kit is yours and therefore very personal. We all have different experiences and reactions to those experiences so it makes sense that what works to lift our mood is also very personal.
If you already do the above, well done, you already have an informal Mental Health Fist Aid Kit! Time to make it more systematic.
Your Mental Health First Aid Kit enables you to revisit these positive, happy memories and stimuli when you need to, keeping everything in one place.
Create your own Mental Health First Aid Kit
You can experiment a bit here to discover what works best for you – maybe a physical kit (as in a container or box with your stuff in it) or a virtual kit using a digital resource to contain your stuff. There are no hard and fast rules, though we do have some top tips for how to create your own kit.
Focus on things that remind you of feeling good! This might be feeling happy, confident, valued etc
Keep everything together so you can review it all together. Use a container or box to keep your memorabilia in or save everything digitally.
Keep it accessible. Having your first aid kit easy to find and visible can be reassuring in itself and means when you do need to use it you don’t have to spend time trying to find it!
Include a range of stuff – we don’t just have plasters in a physical first aid kit! So include pictures, music, memorabilia etc.
Add to it – often. We mentioned above that you can add stuff as you live new experiences so your kit can evolve and grow with you. Getting into the habit of recognising something that could go into your kit for future reference can also help us appreciate our great experiences and be present more – there is a whole other article there!
What can go in your kit…
Again, this list isn’t exhaustive and we welcome any new ideas from you! Typically you could include:
Photographs – adding a narrative to photos can help you recall the positive emotions from the time.
Letters or cards – these might be from friends or family, for example birthday cards made by children or grandchildren. Thank You cards are also good to add – maybe from a colleague.
Music reminders – titles of songs or albums you associate with fun, happy times.
TV/ film reminders – titles of episodes that make you laugh out loud or smile.
Physical items – I have a whistle that I was awarded by my netball club for being an awesome coach (in their eyes!)… you get the idea.
How to use it
It is important to remember that this is your resource and you can use it to help you reflect – whenever you want to! You do not have to wait until you are feeling sad or low. You can use it to reinforce good times, which we think is great!
The act of reflection (massively under-rated, we feel!!) in itself can be therapeutic, help calm our thoughts and create time and space to relax. Coupled with the memory stimulation from the stuff in our kit, this can help us link back to more positive emotions and move forward with these.
A recipe for your Mental Health First Aid Kit
Find a suitable container – a durable box, a bag. The more colourful the better.
Add 2 photographs – you can download photos for free (you just pay postage) from many websites. Choose photos from different situations or experiences.
Add 1 item of memorabilia that reminds you of a time when you laughed – until your ribs hurt!
Write yourself a letter including details of a time when you helped someone else, what did you do and how did you feel at the time and now.
Have fun creating your kit and let us know how you get on.
It is worth mentioning that a Mental Health First Aid Kit is not a complete solution to mental ill health just as a physical first aid kit cannot solve all physical injuries or conditions. If you are living with mental ill health it is important to seek professional help and other support. Check out the following charity websites for possible support/ resources:
Over the coming weeks, we will explore Mental Health, what it is and how your mental wellbeing effects you and your daily life. We will share some insight and tools to help you understand your mental wellbeing and how you can positively influence it when needed. We will walk you through these tools so you are confident using them and helping yourself.
We will also explore the stigma associated with mental illness and the responsibility we feel we all have to do more to reduce this stigma and the discrimination that can follow.